Be there for depressed friend while seeking help for yourself
Q: I'm a senior in high school. One of my best friends was diagnosed with clinical depression when we were freshmen. It's been up and down — she's on medication and has been to therapy.
We don't have classes together this year, and I hadn't seen her for a while. A week ago I finally got a chance to catch up with her.
Turns out she had been cutting herself. She said her parents noticed, and her doctor put her on a new "mood-stabilizer," which she said seemed to be working. I was upset for so many reasons.
I know that if someone is displaying suicidal/self-destructive behavior I should tell an adult, but she's already receiving help. What do I do now? I'm also upset because we haven't spent time together this year. Is it possible her worsening is my fault? I don't know whom to talk to. None of my other friends knows she's depressed, and I feel like it's something I shouldn't share. But I'm so worried for her, and I feel like I don't have anyone to talk to about it.
A: You're right, you can't tell friends — because even though the need to talk is about you, the facts belong to your friend and aren't yours to share.
The good news: You always have someone to talk to — you and anyone else, about your friend or anyone else, about cutting or anything else.
The list of resources starts with your parents. Unless you don't trust them (in all senses of the word), lean on them.
Next on the list: your school's counselor or a trusted teacher. Seek, find, talk.
If you'd rather suffer than approach an adult, then lean on a hotline. In your case, you have the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, help line at your disposal: toll-free 1-800-950-NAMI ( nami.org).
For anything else that arises, bookmark Columbia University's excellent Go Ask Alice! website ( goaskalice.columbia.edu/health-resources), which offers both an expert-staffed, online Q-and-A service and a comprehensive list of outside resources, grouped by topics such as suicide prevention, relationships and sexuality.
There are other excellent resources out there, of course, but none of them is worth spit if you don't use them. Use them.
As for your being responsible for your friend's decline, please know that serious conditions such as hers don't trace easily to one person, one cause, one choice or even one health issue.
Extremes are eye-catching, but avoid them anyway: Don't run away from her, and don't try to rescue her either. Just line up your own support and be the friend who listens to her.