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Friend in a Funk

Dear Dr. Ryan,
In the past year I’ve seen a noticeable change in my friend Darla’s mood. Darla and I worked together at a coffee shop one summer when I was in between advertising gigs. I wouldn’t call Darla a best friend, but we had a special connection that summer and a lot of frivolous fun. We see each other every two months and it’s always easy to connect. Until recently Darla has never cancelled on a date. However over the last 6 months my general feeling that she is struggling with depression has turned into a true concern. She mentioned a year ago that she felt stuck in her job, but other than that, she hasn’t mentioned anything too turbulent or saddening going on in her life. The last two times we’ve gotten together she’s seemed really down and most recently she cancelled on our coffee date. I think my friend is depressed. How do I go about making sure she’s okay?
-Friend in a Funk

Dear Friend in a Funk,
You are a good friend. It is so vital to have friends in our lives who are invested enough in our well-being to not only keep the relationship going but to dig in with us when we aren’t being ourselves. Even simple check-ins from a friend can make a powerful statement that there is someone else who cares about us and that they notice something is different.

With many part-time funks or even mental health struggles it can sometimes be quite difficult to recognize that you are struggling. You think you are holding it all together, making things proceed as normal, but when someone says something it can break through that wall. The very fact that you wrote a question on her behalf, shows that you are perceptive of her struggle and that you care for her. Now the next step is to reflect that back to her.

There could be many things going on with Darla, but her low mood and reduced social activities could suggest depression. I think the important thing that is sometimes missed is just how common depression can be. Research suggests that in any given year approximately 7% of the US population experiences Major Depression,with an even higher percentage experiencing subthreshold depressive symptoms.

While periods of low mood and/or anhedonia (loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities) can occur for many of us, extended periods of these symptoms indicate something more serious. The most important information when discussing depression is that it is also highly responsive to treatment. Both psychotherapy and medication are effective for treating depression and can be used as standalone treatments or in combination. If Darla is struggling with something more than a part-time funk, I would encourage her to consider reaching out for professional help as a first step. However, if she isn’t quite prepared to make that step, these books can also be a good place to start.
-Dr. Ryan

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