Depression and low mood

Friends and relationships

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.

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 One woman had deliberately withdrawn herself from her friends during a bad period of life; wanting to “alienate” them but she came to regret this later on.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.

Struggling friendships
 
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’.
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”
 
Several felt they didn’t “deserve” such good friends or that their friends deserved someone better as a friend.
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.
A couple of women had felt “used” by their friends or had friendships where friends would take, but not give.
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.
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.”
 
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.
 
Intimate relationships and sex
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.”
 
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.
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.”

For helplines and other resources please see our ‘Resources’ section.

Last reviewed December 2013.

Last updated January 2011.

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