How Do I Help A Friend Struggling With Depression?
Dear Dr. Grace:
My roommate struggles with depression, and she is often discouraged about the things going on in her life. I am thankful that I can be her friend; it seems like not many others know or understand what she's going though. I really want to be there for her, but it feels like too much for me to handle. What should I do?
From the standpoint of friendship I think it is awesome you have the desire and ability to create a safe place for your roommate. God has probably gifted you with skills and compassion to come along side someone that may be struggling or hard to love. Those are wonderful attributes to have, but there are also a couple of things you need to do.
First, while you need to be compassionate, you also need to protect yourself by setting boundaries. Be aware when she exceeds appropriate friendship boundaries because then you lose the capacity to give back. A good sign that this is happening is when you start feeling overwhelmed and helpless. I suggest setting a time and frequency limit that you spend with her talking about her problems.
Recognize Your Limits.
Second, know your limits. I assume you are not a trained pastoral counselor or therapist. Depression is a very difficult, psychologically complex disorder; therefore, this is an important role that not just anyone can play. It may be best for you to refer her on for more professional help. You might even offer to drive her to a counseling appointment.
And finally, pray for your friend. All too often we think of prayer as a last resort instead of a first line of offense! Instead of trying to solve her problems, the absolute best thing you can do is ask how you can pray for her, then pause and immediately do exactly that. When you reach the time limit with her that you have pre-set, let her know you need to go, but that you will be faithful to keep praying for her.
In summary, if you want to be a good friend, then don't try to fix her. That is not your responsibility or your expertise. Continue to be compassionate and pray for her. Set some appropriate boundaries, recognize your limits and encourage her to get professional help if necessary.
And thank you for being her friend!
Christopher Grace serves as the director of the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and teaches psychology at Rosemead School of Psychology. He and his wife, Alisa, speak regularly to married couples, churches, singles and college students on the topic of relationships, dating and marriage. Grace earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from Colorado State University.