Laurel* and Catherine* had been close for more than a decade before the fight that ended their friendship. It happened in a Starbucks parking lot, where they’d stopped for a quick coffee during a trip to the mountains. Laurel was furious because Catherine had stood by the bathroom instead of waiting with her while she got their drinks.
To the average person, the reason for the argument might have seemed petty and insignificant. But to Laurel, Catherine’s actions constituted nothing less than the deepest betrayal. In part, that was because, after a nearly a decade of feeling fine without antidepressants, the dark feelings Laurel first experienced when she was 13 — anger, anxiety, isolation — had started creeping up on her again. And as her depression worsened, she’d become convinced Catherine secretly hated her.
“When I would call and get her voicemail, depression told me she was screening my calls. When she was too busy with work to make the two-hour drive to visit me, depression said she would rather do anything than be around me,” Laurel told . “I completely fell apart [on our trip], throwing words at her like knives and letting out every bit of anger, hurt and resentment that depression had justified in my heart.”
The fight at Starbucks set the tone for the rest of the weekend, which was miserable for both Laurel and Catherine. Their friendship hasn’t been the same since.
Since the fight, Laurel has come to understand that her depression was at the root of her problems with Catherine. But neither of them can forget what happened.
“I’m unable to take the words I said back, and she’s unable to forget that I let something like depression color my trust in our friendship,” Laurel said. “I can’t blame her for that, any more than I can forgive myself for seeing the signs of what was really going on — then ignoring them until they’d done so much damage that I’m not sure we will ever recover.”
The struggle to repair a friendship damaged by depression is frustratingly common. It’s often an added, ongoing challenge for the estimated 14.8 million adults in the United States with major depressive disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Depression diagnoses have become comparatively common among millennials: Approximately 8.7% of people between the ages of 18 and 25 have been diagnosed with some form of the condition.
But even though depression is fairly common, and medication and therapy can be enormously helpful for treating it, its symptoms — feelings of hopelessness, social isolation, restlessness, mood swings and irritability — can affect every aspect of the depressed person’s life, from work to relationships to friendships.
“A depressed person’s energy may ebb and flow so they aren’t able to keep their commitments,” Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and author who studies friendship. “He or she may convey a sense of hopelessness. Everyone feels blue from time to time, but depression is more persistent, affecting an individual’s mood, behavior and functioning. In fact, it can be depressing to be around a friend who is depressed for long periods of time.”
The strains depression can place on a relationship are usually obvious to everyone in it — including the depressed person, who often is well aware that they’re not fun to be around. Being conscious of your own limitations as a friend can often make someone with depression feel even worse.
“I began to feel like a burden when some of the people close to me weren’t always available for me to vent to, but realistically, no one was rejecting my friendship or pushing me away,” Ali, a 21-year-old who was diagnosed with depression in college. Still, she had sympathy for her friends, who she saw struggling with how to help her: “Sometimes it’s just too much to see someone you love in such a dark place.”
On a rational level, a depressed person might grasp that their friends simply don’t understand what they’re going through. But that doesn’t change how much it hurts when their relationships are ultimately damaged by the symptoms of depression.
“A roommate once said to me, ‘I don’t think I want to live with you again, because I’m tired of living with someone who is too depressed to do the dishes,'” Alex*, a Tumblr user. Said that :