Here young people talk about friendships and relationships. They discuss how depression or low moods had affected making or keeping friends, intimate relationships and feeling alone.
“True friends shone through”
A few young people had friendship groups but most said they had a few “true friends” they could, and wanted, to trust. “True friends” were those with whom they could be themselves and who knew what to do when they were going through a difficult time. It was also among close friends people said they could have a laugh about their experiences and allow friends to “take the mickey” out of them. Some people said their friendships had never been affected by depression.
Looking back depression made my true friends shine out. A lot of people didn’t understand it, and couldn’t manage seeing me anymore. My best friend was so upset every time she saw me, in the end she couldn’t bring herself to see me. When I started to get better, she was there and still is to this day. At first I resented her for leaving me in the lurch, I used to think my own best friend can’t even be here for me when I need her the most. Now I understand, she loved me so much and seeing me not being able to do anything to make my pain go away was too much. I was fortunate enough to have friends that were with me all through, and now I'm coming out the other side, I have never been so close to them, and I know that we will be friends forever. The depression didn’t make them treat me any differently, they were the little normality I had in my life. To them I wasn’t a victim I was just Gemma and that made me realise that too.
Age at interview:
See 'Brief outline'
Having good friends, having people who will take the mick out of you, and just laugh at you is fantastic, but laugh at you for the right reasons. There’s a couple that used to live next door but one to us, and they’ve moved up the road, he offered to give me a lift home the other day, and he texted me saying, “Are you ready you wobble headed feminist freak?” But he just calls me a nutter. But I know that if I needed him to be there for me he would, and I know that people I can laugh with will be there for me.
Just laugh at me, call me “Hop-along”, but they also know when to stop. ‘Cos if they can tell I’m either in a mood where I can’t deal with it or if I’m getting upset they stop.
They call me “Hopalong,” it’ll be like “Come along, run faster.” one of my anorexic friends from the hospital, when she left we had a bit of a joke, , I’d tell her we were going to MacDonald’s for lunch, and she’d tell me we were only going after we’d played a couple of games of Twister [laughs]. So they just take the mick, but in a nice way, in the way that tells me that they’re there for me. There’s a difference between taking the mick out of someone because you care, and taking the Mick out of them because you want to hurt them. Saying things like “Come along Hopalong,” is quite amusing, whereas saying it after I’ve fallen over or whatever wouldn’t be. But it’s nice being able to laugh at myself and laugh at other people and I think the thing is the people that I’m talking about have always taken the mick out of me. So it’s not like, “Oh she’s ill let’s stop taking the mick.” Its nothing’s changed, they still think it’s hilarious to take the mick out of everything.
A few people pointed out that making friends and keeping good relationships was always a two-way-process and could take a lot of work. One woman had deliberately withdrawn herself from her friends during a bad period of life; wanting to “alienate” them but she came to regret this later on. For a couple of people to develop the invaluable friendships they had, had taken a lot of time and effort.
A lot of the people described having difficult and complex relationships and many felt depression had affected their friendships one way or another. Many said they had never “fitted in” and making friends had been “hard work” for them throughout their lives – see ‘Childhood and life before depression’. Several people had also experienced physical, mental or emotional bullying in the past – see ‘Bullying and depression’.
Well I’ve got many friends and, so I got English friends, and different countries’ friends and Kurdish friends as well. I’m happy with them, that aspect. I just want, I’m friendly already. I like making new friends as well and I like my friends, it's good at times.
Is it easy for you to make friends?
Well it’s not really easy because you have to know someone to have to be friendly and that’s why it’s not so easy so, because I’m chatting on the computer as well and I cannot say it is easy but if you know someone you can use that person to be your friend.
The hardest aspect people struggled with in friendships was feeling like “a burden” on others. Many preferred to be on their own, or had their “guard up” with friends because they worried about “dragging everyone down” and being the one whose mood would ruin others’ fun. One woman said;
“I don’t want to push my low mood onto everyone else ‘cos I know it’s quite contagious sometimes…I don’t want to be the person that sets off a bit of a sob fest like sitting amongst a circle of friends”
Definitely I spend a lot of time with my best friends but even with them I sometimes can’t be bothered ‘cos it’s quite like, because my best friends will talk to me about their problems and I’ll be sitting there listening to their problems, and I don’t mind listening to their problems, and I do, yeah I give advice and stuff, but sometimes I’ll be sitting there thinking, “you know I’ve got other stuff to worry about right now.”
I know I have to, I, and you don’t wanna, if they’re already upset, or if they’re already happy you don’t want to change it, you don’t want to do anything, you know. They’re your best friends, you kind of want them to be happy, you want them to have their rant, they need to get out, so you just leave it and like, and I suppose it’s just me ‘cos I try I don’t want to bother anyone, so it’s quite, I won’t really socialise, even with my best friends I won’t do it because I don’t want to be a bother, so it’s quite, and instead of being a bother it’s better to just not go so.
Several felt they didn’t “deserve” such good friends or that their friends deserved someone better as a friend.
I did have quite a good group of friends, but because I was sort of distancing myself from things so I was deliberately trying to lose and trying to alienate myself and I still see some of those people now, but the relationship wasn’t one it was at all. Because I missed out on that, that time, they have bonding times sort of when people went at the end of the year to their different schools, I didn’t have that relationship to continue on because I hadn’t built up to it until the end and I missed out a main chunk of it so.
I didn’t feel that I deserved their friendship, they were all very nice people, and because of the way that I had a view about myself I thought well I’m bringing the group down, I’m sort of depressing them, so if I take myself away from them then they get to have a friendship they can have without me being of part of it because I’m bringing it down, they don’t, they don’t deserve me to, there, they don’t deserve to have me there making that situation more difficult so, I moved, I moved myself from it sort of. After a while they stopped inviting me to things ‘cos they knew, they knew I’d say no.
Trust was another factor many struggled with. Many found it impossible to believe that their friends really cared for them or that they would stick around. A few said they’d lost all trust in people after they’d been “backstabbed”, “cheated on” or had been abandoned as children. Some felt depression had affected their ability to have good friendships because they had never learnt what “a good relationship looks like”. For some, getting “clingy”, “insecure” or “co-dependent” on their friends or partners had become a burden on the relationship.
I can also realise now like that, that is a bit of this fear that like now I just kind of, you know, like translate the dependency I had in a relationship to my friendships so… and really I wish I had in the past as well, where I just like had one person, suddenly like that person would just, but even with like a relationship in the sense that it wasn’t sexual, but it was like a relationship in the sense that it was really intense and like I’d just like hang onto this person and at first like that person would be really supportive and great and it would be like this great intimacy and mutual love. And then I would just be like the out, over, like the other person would feel overburdened by the pressure that I put on and like in the end I would just put my entire happiness on like, as the responsibility of that other person. So it’s like to the point where you know, even if the person’s there, it gets to the point where that still isn’t enough for some weird reason because it’s a never ending want that they could never satisfy it.
A couple of women had felt “used” by their friends or had friendships where friends would take, but not give.
It’s still really hard to talk to people about because you don’t know what they’re gonna say or whether they’re just gonna dismiss it and not listen to you. Or if they’re gonna tell other people and laugh and their just, it’s really hard to sort of trust people and you have to tell ‘em, I think that’s the hardest thing about getting over it, you’ve got to find somebody you really, really trust.
It’s getting over that hurdle of trusting them is the hardest thing with the relationship you just break down the trust, there’s no trust, I mean I trust people now but it’s, it’s still difficult to truly believe that they’re not gonna hurt you.
Even though you know that, you know they’re not going to, but something tells, and inside you it’s telling you, “Oh they will.” But you know that they won’t, for a fact you know they wouldn’t hurt you. They wouldn’t want to do that, but something still tells you that they’re gonna, they can do it. But it’s just something, it’s so, it’s such a confusing. It makes it hard to read people as well, like you find it really hard.
Age at interview:
See 'Brief outline'
With one of my friends we do sort of touch on it, we don’t go too deep because I’m not like, I don’t really open up that much to like people. But we do talk about it, we’ll touch on it, and we’ll sort of then, it’ll have some sort of really long winded conversation about it. And we do touch on it, but not much, it’s not a topic of discussion ‘cos at the end of the conversation we just both feel a bit you know, run down by it.
It’s not something you really, if you’re drunk, and you’re together like you go out and you have a couple of drinks and play pool and then you, it all starts up again, you’ll all, you’ll talk openly, you’ll say anything when you’re drunk ‘cos the truth comes out, doesn’t it? But, well not always but a lot of the time the truth comes out and you just talk about it then and then you wake up in the morning and you think, “Oh God what’ve I done?”, you know. But yeah, we do talk about it, now and again.
Like just touching on the surface, it’s getting to the point we’re getting deeper and deeper about it, but it’s still not really that intimate like, you know. I mean I don’t about like eating or anything like that to them like, that’s a no go subject, but, that’s the same with everybody. I don’t like to get too intimately attached ‘cos then it’s just gonna get broken at some point, so that makes it weird definitely. We do, we try, my mates try and get me to open up more about it but it’s just no, it’s not working for them. They try and help but I told them, when I’m ready one day I’ll probably just sit down and, probably could be out somewhere and just say it, and just let ‘em look at me like what, that was a long time ago, you know.
For some people, lack of social networks made it hard to make friends. Not having a job, being physically restricted or lacking in self-confidence narrowed down opportunities for meeting new people. Social phobias prevented some people from going out, joining clubs and making friends. A couple of people said they enjoyed having friends in the virtual world, MSN or social networking sites. One woman explained;
“I had many internet friends, who I still have today. Even though they didn’t know my problems they made me feel a lot better. They gave me hope and kept me in touch with reality.”
Losing friends and feeling lonely
Some people had lost friends after getting ill or during difficult periods. People described how friends “rejected” them, didn’t visit them (if in hospital, for example), or stopped inviting them out. They felt these friends felt “awkward” around them and didn’t know how to deal with depression. A couple said their friends gave them more space out of respect to deal with things, but for most, being blanked by their friends was “isolating” and upsetting.
When I was ill at home with all the sort of like the stomach aches and that sort of stuff, and, back then no-one came and visited me either and, I was just finding it really sort of hard to, sort of deal with stuff and you get the sort of really doom inciting thoughts, sort of suicide and that sort of stuff. I guess it just started off for me one day thinking, well why, why can’t my friends come, don’t they want to, can’t they, can’t they get here? Is it my fault that no-one, none of them.
Mum' That’s sort of basically what you said to me wasn’t it?
Couldn’t any of them sort of come sort of thing. I didn’t see anyone for weeks and weeks and weeks. Until sort of like, one of the, the very last thing where one of my, one of my friends came in. She, she said, “Hi,” but she was visiting her brother, which made me feel even worse
Mum' Because it was right in the room next door to Lawrence and he was having visitors in and out, in and out, and they were all kids from the school, to all his mates.
And that’s what made me think well, no-one likes me, sort of thing. Yeah, I was in a, yeah I was a, I was, what made it worse was I was in a bloody cubicle thing, so like on my own, and, just I felt like the door was just shut on me all the time. I’d just sort of sit there and I’d read magazines, or draw, play computer games, and that was literally all I did. I’d just got… more and more sort of lonely and sort of wanting to see people but my wishes were never answered. It was a big load. I can tell you that, it was quite bad.
Age at interview:
See 'Brief outline'
I have a boyfriend, I’ve been with him for quite a long time, and you know he’s my main, he’s my best friend, you know I just, we, I tell him everything, I’ll be, I’m really rely on him, like I think I rely on him too much for emotional support, you know, aside from my Mum, he’s about the only one that’s really been there, and you know he’s had to cope with me, you know going through all the different emotions, and you know, fit, being okay one day, and you know sad the next, and... But other than that I’ve lost all my friends to be honest with you. ‘Cos yeah, I don’t, have any social network at all really, and you know like that’s something I feel I need to work on, I want to, you know, I want to start having more friends.
And I thought, think it just became, it was a series of events really but it was mostly the, you know the physical illness then the depression where I wasn’t able to go out and then not wanting to go out, and then you know it just became, I just became more and more isolated, isolated as the years went on. And eventually just lost contact with anybody I was at school with, and you know just, it’s just pretty much now it just me and my daughter and my boyfriend, my Mum and my sister. That’s it, other than, you know GPs and counsellors, I don’t really have anyone to talk to. And I feel that’s quite important, with depression as well you need someone outside your circle you know, and it, not, not even someone to bear your, you know your emotional baggage, or not someone to lean on, but just to have friends and just to have someone to talk to, and enjoy you know, social experiences with. And that’s something that I lack in my life.
A few people felt they had no “real friends” at all, or they had lost all friends since school days. Some described a sense of “loneliness” following them everywhere, even among the biggest crowd of people.
A few people had lost friends because of life circumstances; moving to a different part of country, or abroad. One man said however much he’d keep in touch with his friends over emails and phone it was never the same as having their physical company or “just a hug at the end of a hard day”.
However, a few young people also just preferred their own company and doing their “own thing”. Some described themselves as “independent”. One woman said she always used to rely on others to keep her company but had grown in confidence:
“I’ve been to parties on my own now, and I’ve had a good time on my own. I never realised I could be on my own, but now I know that I can.”
I’m very sort of independent, to be honest. And well I have my boyfriend who I spend a lot of time with and my family, we’ve got a big family. So my sort of social network is my family and my boyfriend and I do have like a couple of close friends who I’ve known for a while, who I sort of, I go out with them a lot.
Obviously they’re back home, so, I have to go home if I’m going out with them, but I do actually, like for me now, at one point I’d felt the need for friends, but I didn’t have the friends, whereas now with like my more positive slant on things I don’t feel the need for a lot of friends, I feel like I’ve got my support network through my family and my few really close friends, and like I do find it hard to make friends, I always have done, and I probably always will, but the thing is I don’t feel the need to have a big group of friends to rely on.
We also spoke to a couple of people on the autism spectrum who said they felt uncomfortable in close friendships and preferred their own space. They felt especially uneasy about physical closeness like hugging their friends.
Because I’m still young but I like to make friendly with like you know what I mean. Try to knows more about the person who’re been married to, or you who you’re choosing for your life. Because people will only once going to be married not every… you know what I mean?
So I’m, and that’s my future to be training to be a hairdresser, to be a hairdresser and make a nicelife in England because I have to stay in England forever, I cannot leave England, my life’s not safe in my country so I can never go back to there. See if I choose in England I just waiting for a while, but I’m young now.
[Laughs] I’m young, I’m not thinking about being married, I’m just thinking how to sort out my life.
Many young people singled out their partners as the biggest help and support throughout their experiences with depression and low mood. They described their boyfriend or girlfriend as the only one who could cheer them up, or know how to handle them. Some said it had been difficult for their partners to understand depression at first, and that they themselves had been unwilling to talk about it much either;
“At the beginning, I was reluctant to become sort of close to him because I felt like I had these thoughts that were wrong and that I shouldn’t have but once I’d become more positive about things, I have become a lot more close to him.”
My girlfriend at the moment I mean, absolute diamond. She knows exactly. She’s not a diabetic but she, I mean, what was it, about a month ago, she spent a couple of days trawling through the internet trying to learn as much as she could about it. So I’ve sent all of my blood sugars so she’s really supportive, and it’s just, it’s stupid, little things like a text saying, “Have you done your insulin?” You know, text during the day' “What’s your sugar level?” and it’s saying that somebody is there to support, that loves you and is, is there for you. And she knows, and she just deals with the split personality by just, she tells him to F off so, it’s usually quite funny actually, ‘cos she knows, she knows it’s me when I come back because I’ll burst out laughing.
I’ll, I text, I’ll just text her. And she’s just, she just says, “What’s wrong?” And I’ll go, “This,” or, you know I’ll say, “Oh I don’t really know.” And she goes, “Is it a feeling?” You know, “Is it your head? Is it a pain? Is it…?” You know, and she’ll talk me through about twenty million different things, but the end of it I’ll have forgotten what we were talking about and I’ll feel better. And she knows she does it.
Yeah, she, it was quite frustrating actually because it was, “How do you do that?” So she’s just a diamond. She’s put up with so much, you know. Love her to pieces but I don’t know how she’s done it ‘cos I couldn’t have done it without her. Like she’s the, the only person she’s got is me to talk to about it, so.”
Age at interview:
See 'Brief outline'
She said that she’s here for me like, and then I’m like how I’ll turn out or what happens, and when she says stuff like that it’s then that I feel like it’s too good to like be said to me. It needs to be said to someone that’s not like me. That hasn’t got all these problems and doesn’t have all these stupid feelings and doesn’t go through like the pain and stuff. But they think it’s alright so far so.
Do you find it hard to believe her?
Like you know I believe, like I trust in her so I believe her.
Similarly to friendships, people described feelings of being a burden or inadequate or having difficulty trusting their partners, boyfriends and girlfriends. Some feared their partner wouldn’t “put up” with someone who was depressed. A few said they had left their boyfriend or girlfriend because they didn’t feel good enough for them or were afraid of “hurting” or “scaring” them off. One man said a major factor in his split up was not being able to get appropriate support and help from health professionals, which made his girlfriend fear he was “beyond help”. A few worried that they had become too emotionally reliant or dependent on their partner for support.
Recently I’m at this place where I’m finding that honesty is a really good idea. But like I’m very careful to, like I’m seeing someone or something, get to know them, let them get to know me and then reveal these things. So that they see me first and foremost and then you know like, ‘cos obviously I’ve got like scars on my arms and stuff like that. You know it’s like, don’t go in there with, “Hi I’m Ruby, I’m nuts. Do you wanna go out with me?” You know, like, it’s like, you know now I know that well actually I’m not that bad, I am a nice person, well sometimes, a nice person, like so, let them see that and then later on, how can I be expected to be seen as a person without these things, if immediately I introduce myself as a person with these things.
And I’m not saying that they’re insignificant, or in no way important in my life, what’s happened, or what may still happen or whatever, but it doesn’t define me anymore. It’s not like, “I’m, hi I’m Ruby, an alcoholic, bulimic, mental health service user. Who are you? What kind of music do you like?” You know, I’m like, “I’m Ruby, I’m really into rock music, really, ah cool yeah. What do you do? Oh I write. Brilliant.” And then like a few, a couple of weeks down the line it’s like, “Ah I’ve been meaning to tell you, I just wanted you to know so…” Do you know what I mean like? So that they know you, not your disease.
Age at interview:
See 'Brief outline'
I have ADHD, it’s like I’m not good at crystal ball kind of stuff, at least not when it comes to myself. I can think about other things, I can think about economics, I can think about sociology, I can think about how networks evolve over time and think about the big picture stuff. When it comes to me it’s just like, I just think about it too much and then and then I start stressing myself.
I wasn’t a very good partner at that point in my life. I was despondent, I was uncommunicative, I was, I couldn’t help her, I was in need and could not provide and suddenly she was starting a new degree having been a fairly reclusive person for most of her undergraduate life, really all of her undergraduate life, she suddenly had new research people that she could actually identify with and she wanted to, and she felt like I was just dragging her down. And she would, she was scared to come home and sort of depressed because I felt depressed.
Some had been lied to, or cheated on and a couple of women described having been in mentally or emotionally abusive relationships. A couple of people said they’d gotten in with the “wrong crowds” when they were younger, started drinking, doing drugs and got involved with the police. This had led to a downward spiral worsening or triggering depression and low moods.
A few people talked about physical intimacy and sex. Loss of libido is one of the common symptoms of depression but for some people the medication used to treat depression (e.g. SSRIs) can also cause problems such as loss of libido, delayed ejaculation, erectile dysfunction and priapism (in which the erect penis or clitoris does not return to its flaccid state). For some of the young people we talked to depression, or anti-depressive medication, hadn’t had any negative effect on their sex life but a few women felt their poor body image made them physically distant from their boyfriends. For example, a few felt insecure about their weight and one woman said she was put off having sex with her partner because of the scars from self-harming. Another woman described how:
“I was self-harming and stuff and I didn’t sleep with him for quite a while, because like I didn’t let any of them know. We were going out for like four or five months I didn’t sleep with him for something like two, three, and everyone, or I blamed it on that you know I haven’t slept with anyone before and all this kind of stuff. But it wasn’t, it was the fact that I was self-harming and that’s a bit of mood killer.”
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