DEAR KELLY: What does depression look like? I think my best friend has it, and I don’t know what to do. Plus I think her mom may have it, too.
I saw cut marks on my friend’s arm. She said she hurt it on a fence, so at first I believed it.
Then we were changing in PE and I saw burn marks on her stomach and at the top of her leg were bandages, so I think she was cutting there, too. When I asked her what happened, she just said, “I scraped them,” but I didn’t even mention the burn marks on her stomach. I want to be a good friend and not rat on her, but I also don’t know how bad this is.
Her dad died in a car accident almost two years ago. She and her mom have never been OK since. Her dad was their world, and everything changed. Her little brother smokes all the time. All her mom seems to do when I’m there is lay in her bed after work. She used to be the mom who talked with us all the time.
Please don’t tell me to just try and talk to her because when I did tell her I thought something was wrong, she told me that I would never understand and that it’s not worth telling me anything because there’s nothing I can do.
Please tell me what to do. I’m not sure.
DEAR EVE: Grief has a way of affecting each person differently. Some people sleep their pain away, others smoke it away and some self-harm to deal with the painful emotions connected to their loss. Losing her dad so suddenly was a traumatic and life-quake moment for your friend, and it doesn’t seem like anyone in her family has recovered.
Depression is different for everyone. Even though there are common factors, each person has a different take on what their depression is like. For some people depression shows up as being sad or blue more than they feel happy or content. They find it a struggle to laugh or enjoy things that used to bring them joy. They may feel weepy or teary and cry at the drop of a hat.
Others experience depression by being constantly irritated and agitated. They may come across as angry at everyone and as if everyone bothers them. Small issues become big ones.
Some people retreat from the world (like her mom) and just check out of dealing with other people. They stay in their bed or their home and don’t interact with others.
When it comes to teenagers, some symptoms include a change in their attitude, problems in school or difficulty concentrating, decreased interest in doing the things they used to enjoy, change in self-esteem, feeling like the future is grim and bleak, conflict with their family, frequent stomach or headaches, social isolation, change in appearance, alcohol or substance abuse and self-harm.
Sadness is a normal part of grief. We would expect your friend and her mom to be sad. They had a huge loss and it came without any warning. It sounds as though their sadness has turned to depression and everyone in the family is suffering.
You tried talking to her and it didn’t go well. Don’t take this as you did something wrong, your friend just wasn’t ready to share all she is feeling. Your next step is to go talk with a teacher or your school counselor. Tell them what you saw (the cuts and the burns) and share that you are aware her mom is suffering from depression. The counselor has resources to offer to both your friend and her mom to help them. They need someone to step in and help because their grief is more than they can handle on their own right now.
Hopefully the counselor can keep your name out of it and just say someone came to her with concerns. If your friend says she knows you did it, be OK with telling her it was only because you cared and you didn’t want to see her hurting herself anymore. Come from a place of love and concern and know that you did the right thing.
You are a good friend. Depression can be a difficult, messy and uncomfortable issue and many people just prefer to pretend like it isn’t happening. Your friend needs you right now, even if she tries to push you away. Speak up so your friend and her family can take the first step in working through all that has happened.