My friend has depression and is having a really hard time right now. I want to be there for her, but it’s hard. I told her to let me know whenever she needed to talk, so she’s been texting me late at night and I haven’t been sleeping. I’ve canceled plans with other friends a few times now to hang out with her. I care about her a lot and want to be a good friend, but it’s really stressing me out and I feel like I’m being selfish whenever I don’t answer her texts right away. What can I do?
First, we want to say that it’s wonderful you care so deeply about your friend and want to support her as she goes through a really difficult time. Depression is a serious but treatable mental health condition, and figuring out how to be there for someone living with it can be a tricky process.
However, it sounds like you feel solely responsible for your friend’s mental health, which can be overwhelming.
You are not responsible for your friend’s mental health, and thinking of your own needs is not selfish. It’s one thing to talk with your friend regularly, but it’s another to lose sleep and friendships for her. It’s time to set some boundaries with your friend and figure out ways you can be there for her without sacrificing your own mental health. Have an honest conversation with your friend about what you’re willing to do for her and what you’re not. Explain that you care about her and want to support her, but you need to take care of yourself.
Talk about other ways you can be there for her.
What would help her feel supported that doesn’t interfere so much with your health and sense of well-being? Maybe you can text her earlier in the day or schedule a regular movie night. If certain things are really hard for her—like leaving the house or doing homework—maybe you can schedule some time to do them together.
And then, enforce those boundaries. Set your phone to do not disturb before you go to bed. Stop cancelling plans for her. This may feel really hard, and that’s normal. But ultimately, having these boundaries will be better for both of you. If you don’t make your feelings clear now, you may eventually grow resentful, which isn’t healthy for either of you.
What other support does your friend have?
Having a support network is really important for managing a mental health condition. Help your friend think of people she trusts and can talk to (besides you). These are people she can turn to when she’s feeling overwhelmed. Connect her to additional resources like the Crisis Text Line or the TrevorLifeline.
If she isn’t already, it sounds like your friend would benefit from seeing a therapist. SAMHSA’s National Helpline can help connect her to treatment in her area. She may also be able to talk to a school counselor or, if she’s in college, get mental health services through her university. If she is 10-22 years old in NYC, she can get confidential, comprehensive health care—including mental health services—at no cost to her at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. She can call (212) 423-3000 for an appointment, or just walk in.
Ultimately though, you cannot control your friend’s behavior, and (again) you are not responsible for her mental health.
In the meantime, don’t forget to take care of yourself. Keep doing activities that make you feel healthy and happy. Journal, exercise, hang out with friends and get plenty of sleep. If you haven’t already, talk to someone you trust about what’s going on. Helping a friend with depression can be confusing, stressful and overwhelming. You don’t have to deal with it alone.