When It Is Our Friends Who Are Depressed

So often, we are trying to figure out how to deal with our own issues of depression, anxiety, unhappiness… so much of what’s written in the world, so much of what’s said, is about this topic.  What do I do when I’m depressed?  What do I do when life is overwhelming?

But what about those around us?  When they’re depressed?  Anxious?  Overwhelmed?

I’ve recently had to face this question more honestly, more truly, than I ever have.  I have, by some weird alignment of God’s will, suddenly become surrounded by many friends going through varying degrees of depression.  Some simply because.  Most because life has become unbearably difficult in some respect, or in many respects.  Some are close to me (in distance).  Some are far away, friends from the internet.  So close, and so far.

With each person there is a sense of hopelessness, of not knowing what to say, what to do.


That’s the difficulty of it, isn’t it?  When I’m depressed, I have tools and I know what to do, or at least how to weather the storm.  I have tools at my disposal.

I think that’s part of why articles about our own personal depression tend to be more popular than articles about others’.  The articles about ourselves give us a sense of control.  But the articles about others: quite the opposite.

Being a friend to someone with depression tends more to do with not doing anything.  Not trying to fix them, or tell them to go do this or that, or this worked for you and they should totally do it too.

Being a friend to a depressed person is about letting go of control, not getting more of it.

When we try and tell someone who is depressed what to do, we are doing a number of injustices to their hearts and souls.  

First, the assumption that we, untrained people, know what another person to do to take care of themselves because it worked for us is both untrue and hurtful to the other person.  It’s like saying that because I received this kind of treatment for cancer, my friend should too.  We have no way of knowing, and the only one really qualified to tell us is our doctor.

Second, a friend coming to us and telling us they are depressed is overcoming an incredible amount of pain and vulnerability to open up.  Why do you think that might be?  It’s not for guidance, not initially, at least.  It’s because they feel alone, and you as a friend represent a way for them to feel unalone.  Trying to fix them makes them more alone because you are confirming their fears that there is something wrong with them and also saying you’ve got it better.

No no, a friend who comes to us in depression, sharing their darkest pain, needs one thing: to be heard.  For us to let go of our incessant need to hold on and take control, and to simply be in the pain with them.


But, that’s the other thing that’s hard, isn’t it?  That to be around a depressed friend, we must share their depression to an extent.  That is what it means to have empathy.  That instead of looking at a person as a puzzle to be put in order, we see them as a person, with a heart and a soul and ups and downs.  To enter into their reality instead of imposing our own.

It’s so hard, though.  Because the more we allow ourselves to open up to that, the more we feel depressed ourselves.

My recent experience with my friends, though, has taught me that this is the beauty of friendship.  That we put another’s needs before our own.  Not that we sacrifice ourselves, God forbid, but that we give ourselves.  Feeling pain is not suffering if its purpose is to alleviate another’s.

In fact, that’s one of the ultimate lessons of depression itself: that we allow ourselves to feel it.  Fighting depression is often more about acceptance and using tools to work with  depression than to directly fight it.

And so, when a friend comes to us with their depression, they are giving us an opportunity to help them do that, even if they don’t realize it.  

The depressed person needs to hear that it is okay to be depressed.  That there is nothing wrong with them.  That they are not broken or messed up or without hope.

And the beauty of doing nothing, of listening, of simply being together with a friend in their pain is that we say all those things without saying them.


Yes, some of the best ways to deal with depression are therapy and medication.  And yes, often we have to be the ones to tell those around us to pursue those options.  And yes, the articles around depression and mental health are so important.

But ultimately, those things are about a person learning to deal with their pain on their own, or with the help of a professional.

There is another side to the equation.  And that is us.  Those who aren’t feeling the pain quite as strongly in the moment.  Those who have been opened up to.

We are the right side of the brain to complement the left.  We are the rain to balance the sun.

In other words, we provide the support that is so very needed for those who go through depression.  Therapy and medication and articles will never be as effective if they are not coupled with a strong network of support.  One that does not judge, that provides comfort instead of solutions, love instead of repair.

A friend may not be a therapist, but in many ways, a friend can be so much more.





78 responses to “When It Is Our Friends Who Are Depressed”

  1. Jeremy McCandlish Avatar
    Jeremy McCandlish

    I’m up to “first,” (must stop, on break at work) and you’ve already explained what the judgement probably is making me sad

    and explained how to correct it.

    Hod of netzach…indeed. Thanks.


  2. disqus_wKRUL7aEB7 Avatar

    How does this play out in supporting a depressed (or mentally ill in general) parent?

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      Oh man, I really wish I knew, I’m lucky in that my parents have really always been the solid ones compared to Mr. Crazy Me. I imagine there are resources for this online. If you have your own therapist, I highly recommend you speak to them. Or maybe even get one just for that purpose.

  3. Rebecca K. Avatar
    Rebecca K.

    I’ve struggled in the past with depression and OCD and I STILL needed this reminder. I think that because this kind of friendship is passive, we feel like we are doing nothing but watch the friend suffer, and it just hurts so much. I need to be reminded that I can’t fix things for other people and that just listening and being there IS doing something..

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      Ironically, I think sometimes it’s those of us that have been there that find it the hardest to simply be. Which is actually why I wrote the piece in the way that I did: directed towards others who also suffer depression. The hardest thing for me is remembering I can control myself but not others. I think that’s part of why I write, actually, it gives me a way to help when I can’t help in other more direct ways.

      But anyway, my point is I feel you, and I think that people who have had mental health issues can both have great strength but also great weaknesses in helping others precisely because they know what it’s like. I think that’s why this is something that needs to be taught just as much as anything else in mental health.

  4. Chana S Avatar
    Chana S

    Very insightful and you hit the bull’s eye. However, the real test is living with a family member who is chronically depressed, albeit who is on meds, but needs more therapeutic intervention and refuses to get it. With a friend, you can be compassionate, hold their hand, do all that good olde reflective listening and then eventually go about your day. With a spouse there is a tendency especially among Jewish women, to want to fix things, to make things happen, to find the answers, for resolution – very hard for us to simply let go.
    Finally, after almost sinking in a quagmire of hopelessness felt by the other “healthier” spouse, the options become pretty evident: nag, criticize and control; as a consequence the couple begins to go further down the “rabbit hole” of destruction and thus further pain; file for divorce, which we all know is nasty business for all involved or try and let go! continue to work on the midda of compassion and live a more fulfilled life with other positive people and engage in activities with or without one’s spouse; very difficult even with support systems professional or otherwise and very lonely. One becomes like a widow albeit still married. Perhaps your next article needs to be: when it is our loved ones who are chronically depressed and your living together 24/7 . Some fodder for your future writings I would think, file it away. Thank you!

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      So true, Chana! Although honestly I learned a lot of this simply from being a husband and realizing I couldn’t always fix my wife’s problems.

      But truth is that people comments had already gotten me thinking about such a post. So maybe it will come one day!

      1. Chana S Avatar
        Chana S

        nor can she fix yours..btw, better write that article soon; call it part 2. i think this is more of a concern to most of us. With a friend one can always walk away from his/her pain and get a breather;r and if it becomes too much, regrettably can leave the friendship. it is done all the time. good luck

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