"By being honest, understanding, realistic, and patient, you can ensure that you are doing everything in your power to be a good friend, and build friendships that can support you through your depression and into the future. "

If you find that you’re having trouble maintaining friendships while dealing with depression, you’re not alone. In fact, a lack of motivation and interest in maintaining relationships is one of the symptoms of depression.(1)

It’s pretty standard for guys to want to withdraw from relationships when they’re depressed, but it’s really important to fight the urge. Studies show that increased social support is correlated with decreased levels of depression,(2) and maintaining your friendships is a critical way of ensuring this support. You don’t have to fuss over the number of friends you have, as the quality of your friendships is more important than the quantity.(3) Having a couple of supportive friends is more beneficial than having 20 superficial ones.

It’s important to remember that seeing your friends in person (rather than only online or through social media) will help the most. This has been tricky to do over the last year with COVID-19 precautions, but as things open up, we need to make an effort to see our friends in person. One study found that receiving support from friends on Facebook didn’t have any measurable impact on reducing depressive symptoms.(4) Thus, while online friendships can play an important role in our lives, it’s more important to connect with people you can also meet in person.

To keep things simple, we’ve organized this article into two parts: 1) tips on maintaining your friendships while dealing with depression, and 2) tips on how to make new friends. There are also some extra tips that apply to all kinds of friendships.

Tips for Maintaining Your Friendships
Tips for Making Friends When Depressed
Key points to remember
Tips for Maintaining Your Friendships

When we’re depressed, we tend to envision worst-case scenarios (like our friends abandoning us or not understanding our struggles), but don’t under-estimate your friends. Just like you would support them, your friends are probably more willing to help than you may think. Here are some things to focus on:

Be honest:

  • Being open about your depression is an integral part of maintaining your friendships. Suppose you are cancelling or postponing plans because you don’t have the energy. In that case, it’s essential to explain to your friends why you’re doing this – otherwise, your friends are more likely to think you are avoiding them or don’t care about your friendship. If they can understand your struggle or are at least aware of it, they will be in a better position to support you.

Lean on your friends:

  • It’s okay to need support; depression is a serious illness, and asking for an extra hand gives your friends a chance to help. For example, you can ask your friends to help pick up groceries, come over to make a meal together, or watch a game together.
  • If you don’t have the energy to plan things, ask a friend for help. Tell them if they handle the planning, you’ll show up.

Recognize when a friendship isn’t healthy:

  • Sometimes you need to let go of a friendship. Not all friendships will help you through your depression. In fact, some friendships can actually make things worse.
  • Avoid friends who influence you to numb your pain through substance use, those who are emotionally abusive, or anyone that intentionally worsens your mood.
  • Don’t let yourself be pulled down by someone who is making light of your depression. If you end up feeling worse about yourself when around certain people, it’s time to question whether these people belong in your life.

Plan ahead:

  • If you have the energy, try to make concrete plans with your friends to get together; maybe go out for a movie, grab a quick lunch, or even set up a video chat. They will notice if you can take the initiative. Set a date and time, and don’t leave it as “yeah sure, we’ll hang out sometime.”
Tips for Making Friends When Depressed

Receiving support from friends is an essential part of recovering from depression.(2) Depending on what friends you have, you may want to bring some new company into your life. While making new friends can be helpful, it can also be pretty tough – especially when depression may lead you to take things more personally or blame yourself if things don’t go well.

Find others with shared interests

Look for ways to meet new people with similar interests.

  1. Volunteer with a group that does something that interests you.
  2. Look online for local events.
  3. See if there are any meet-up groups in your area.
  4. Ask one of your current friends if you can tag along somewhere there’s an opportunity to meet more people.

Join a group

  • Try to find and join a men’s group or support group, or start one yourself. Support groups are a great way to meet like-minded individuals and provide the opportunity to build healthy friendships aimed at supporting each other.

Be authentic

  • Just be yourself. So many guys who deal with depression talk about feeling trapped in the mask they put on when they are around others. Pretending to be someone we’re not or trying to be someone we think others expect is not only exhausting, but also leaves us feeling that we can never truly be ourselves.
  • Believe that you’re a good person, trust yourself to be yourself, and through this you are more likely to find genuine connections.

Give your friendships time to grow

  • Don’t expect to find a new best friend right away (it could happen, but most friendships are strengthened over time through shared experiences).
  • Avoid treating new friends like therapists: you can share what’s going on in your life, but you don’t want them to feel like you are asking them to solve your problems. If you are looking for a therapist, try our Find a Therapist feature.

If there is something your new friend is interested in that you don’t know much about, ask them to teach or show you. People often like to share their passions with eager listeners.

Key points to remember

Be patient with yourself

  • Things might not go the way you want them to; the important thing is to keep trying. Try not to count how many new friendships you’re making, but instead the number of times you are reaching out or trying to meet new people. This is the part that you can control, and as long as you are reaching out, you’re moving in the right direction.

Be realistic

  • Friends can be a valuable part of your recovery, but you can’t expect them to pull you out of your depression alone or that making new friends will solve your problems right away. Making friends can be a vital part of managing your mental health, but not having as many friends or as close of friends as you like doesn’t mean you can’t be happy – building strong friendships takes time.

Give yourself credit

  • Try to remember that making new friends as an adult can be challenging, so each step you take is commendable. Give yourself credit for putting yourself out there.

Although it can be difficult to stay connected to others when depressed, it’s important to not withdraw and isolate yourself from the important people in your life. The science is pretty clear that maintaining social connections is key to maintaining good mental health.(5) Following the above tips may not yield strong friendships right away, but stick with it. By being honest, understanding, realistic, and patient, you can ensure that you are doing everything in your power to be a good friend and, hopefully, over time build friendships that can support you through your depression and into the future.


References:

  1. Brent, L., Chang, S., Gariépy, J., & Platt, M. (2013). The neurology of friendships. The New York Academy of Sciences, 1316((1), 1-17. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.12315 
  2. Jensen, M., Smith, A., Bombardier, C., Yorkston, K., Miró, J., & Molton, I. (2014). Social support, depression, and physical disability: Age and diagnostic group effects. Disability and Health Journal, 7(2), 164-172. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dhjo.2013.11.001
  3. Schwarzbach, M., Luppa, M., Forstmeier, S., König, H., & Riedel-Heller, S. (2013). Social relations and depression in late life – A systematic review. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 29(1), 1-21. https://doi.org/10.1002/gps.3971
  4. McCloskey, W., Iwanicki, S., Lauterbach, D., Giammittorio, D., & Maxwell, K. (2015). Are facebook “friends” helpful? Development of a facebook-based measure of social support and examination of relationships among depression, quality of life, and social support. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 18(9), 499-505. https://doi.org/10.1089/cyber.2014.0538 
  5. Saeri, A., Cruwys, T., Barlow FK, Stronge, S., & Sibley, C. (2018). Social connectedness improves public mental health: Investigating bidirectional relationships in the New Zealand attitudes and values survey. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 52(4), 365-374. 10.1177/0004867417723990
Written by the HeadsUpGuys Team - Combining lived experience, clinical practice, and research expertise. Reviewed and approved by Dr. John Ogrodniczuk - Professor and Director of the Psychotherapy Program at the Department of Psychiatry, The University of British Columbia.
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