One of the first pieces of advice you'll hear when you're getting treated for clinical depression is to surround yourself with friends. They remind you of the small joys and make you laugh in your darkest moments, right? Eh, not always. Don't get me wrong; having buddies around is an important part of anyone's social life and can definitely be a beneficial component of healing from any kind of mental illness. But just because your friends are there doesn't mean they're really there, if you get what I mean. People who have never faced a disorder like depression may not truly know what you're going through, and that might create a fundamental disconnect.
When we're kids, we're not taught very much about mental illness; then, as we reach adulthood, we're surrounded by social norms and images from the media that teach us even less about interacting with people who are suffering from depression. Your friends may well not know or understand what kind of help you need, and that's OK. It doesn't mean they don't care about you.
However, you have to keep in mind that your main priority is taking care of yourself. That starts with taking a good, hard look at the influences in your life. Should you find that one, or several, of your friendships are making you feel worse, talk with someone you trust — maybe a parent or a licensed therapist/psychologist —about how you can put space between yourself and these friends. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's identify whether the actions of your besties aren't lifting you up.
Here are five ways your friends might be worsening your depression.
1. They Take You Drinking
When you see a crew of females on your favorite TV show gathering after the work week comes to a close, what are they usually doing? Enjoying happy hour, of course! It's the most common way to meet up, unwind from stress, and make up for lost time; at least, that's what the media tells us. As an individual who is being treated for depression, though, drinking regularly may be stunting your own attempts to feel better.
Alcohol may initially make you feel like all is well and good, but it may make you crash and feel worse later — plus, drinking can interfere with many anti-depressants. When you have one too many drinks, you're also more inclined to act out in negative ways — a lesson you probably learned many times in college, yet it holds true today. Even if you don't have an unhealthy history with booze, it's best to drink in moderation, to keep things as uncomplicated as possible.
But for friends who don't have the same chemical imbalances as you do, smashing some martinis every Thursday night won't have the same effects on their mood and overall well-being. So if they're still encouraging you to hit the 2-for-1 happy hour, it's not necessarily that they don't give a damn about your condition; they just might not even be aware of what you're going through. Speak up for yourself — though not necessarily to the whole lot of them at once while you're on the way to the bar — because you can't expect any of them to comprehend what you need if you don't articulate it.
2. They Don't Live Active Lifestyles
If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times: exercise is scientifically proven to alleviate symptoms of depression, and its favorable effects are said to last longer than the benefits of anti-depressants. Keeping a regular exercise regimen going will definitely help you even out your moods, and it might even lessen the blow of a looming depressive episode.
But we all know how tough it is to go to that spin class religiously without a reliable gym buddy — and if you've got friends who all loathe exercise, it can make making that 6 a.m. session a lot harder. Your friends might enjoy spending their free time doing not-so-active things instead of getting their heart rate up; while it's nobody's place to judge, there's no denying that their choices could be a poor influence on you. Instead of spending your free time scrolling through Pinterest and snacking on Cheetos with them, it's more beneficial to find at least a few new friends who are interested in exercise.
Not all your friends have to be training for a marathon or anything like that in order to be a positive influence. But I promise, you will see a few marvelous improvements in your own health if you start hanging around people who are frequently active. It's a contagious habit — and a great one to cultivate if you are living with a mental illness.
3. They Avoid Talking About Your Illness
No matter how many articles and blog posts are available online these days about the ins and outs of dealing with depression, it's still not an easy topic to chat about over Sunday brunch. People who have never experienced the loneliness and confusion of mental illness may freeze up if the conversation veers in that direction, and although it's a normal reaction, it's not helpful for you. Part of the recovery process is being fully honest about your current state with the individuals you consider to be your closest confidants.
The more you experience friends dodging the subject, the more you might feel like it's taboo, like you're damaged goods and the stuff you wrestle with isn't worth anybody's time and attention — even if you can't quite articulate those feelings at the time. In some cases, long-term effects of avoidance in social situations can lead to relapse and further self-harm.
If you feel like you're not being seen or heard in ways that are beneficial, don't be afraid to sit down with your bestie and tell her that you could use a little extra emotional support. Without accusing her of being insensitive, kindly ask her to lend you a non-judgmental ear; if she's a solid buddy, she'll drop everything to take you out for a walk and listen to whatever is on your heart.
4. They Say Insensitive Things
This is a hard one to pinpoint, simply because a lot of the things people say about depression aren't meant to be hurtful — they are just a reflection of the fact that our society as a whole needs to redefine how we think of mental illness, as well as how we treat those who have been diagnosed with it. That being said, the comments your friends are slipping in here and there might be making you feel worse than you think.
It requires a lot of energy for someone with depression to process insensitive remarks, like, "Just cheer up" or, my personal pet peeve, "It's all in your head." You'd think we'd be able to let them roll off like water off a duck's back, but it's far more complicated than that. We're already physically tired, lonely, and insecure about everything that's happening in the world. The last thing we need is a friend telling us that we're being dramatic about something.
Are these commonly tossed around in your life by people you trust? Remember, you're not the only depressed person dealing with them, and don't forget that you have every right to stand up for yourself and ask them to cool it with the commentary. They'll likely respond with gentleness, because they do love you, even if their words sometimes imply they don't completely understand you.
5. They Aren't Healthy Eaters
Feeling bad and eating poorly can often go hand-in-hand. Take it from me, a girl who used to eat three McDonald's combo meals in the backseat of my car every time my depression felt overwhelming. But these habits are precisely the ones that can spiral us even further out of control of our emotions; and many studies have shown that a healthy diet and lifestyle can often help us ward off severe symptoms.
Multiple studies have shown that healthy food can help with depression. For example, the journal BMC Medicine recently published a study showing that the Mediterranean diet — lots of veggies, fruits, legumes, and nuts, and moderate alcohol consumption — can help prevent some depressive symptoms.
If you consistently find yourself in a group of folks who love packaged foods, processed sugars, and any other unhealthy fare, you may find it harder to take care of yourself in the long run. So you may want to take some steps to make sure that your social group doesn't control what you eat —if you're going out with friends who love food that you know makes you feel bad, eat a healthy meal beforehand or request that you go to a restaurant that has suitable food for you. Your health comes first, no matter how weird they might think you are for choosing a lentil burger over a double bacon Swiss cheeseburger. Friends who can deal with that — and all the other changes and choices listed above — are friends worth sticking with.
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