My friend is greatly depressed following divorce. He has resorted to drinking a tremendous amount of alcohol. He often says the he no longer wants to live, but does not have the ‘guts’ to commit suicide. I’ve listened to him and have been empathetic to him. I have suggested counseling, rehab, and faith. He rejects my suggestions. I’m afraid I’ll get burned out with helping him and he’ll have no where to turn. Any suggestions?
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It’s normal enough that your friend would go through a depression-like period post divorce, assuming he didn’t want the divorce, and/or felt personally betrayed by the failure of the marriage. However, under most circumstances, such an injury would fade after a time (a few months, maybe a year or two on the outside) and he’d get on with his life. You don’t mention how long its been, but you do mention that he is drinking heavily, and you (and he) should know that that is a complicating factor. Alcohol is actually a depressant drug and can cause depression in some cases, or exacerbate an existing depression in others. It is far less likely that your friend will get better so long as he is drinking. Another potentially complicating factor is whether your friend has any previous history of depression or maltreatment/abuse in his life. To the extent that he does, his chances of spontaneous remission, which are normally quite good, go down.
p> It’s in the nature of a depressed person to reject help. The illness causes a warping of judgment such that everything is seen through a negative filter. While depressed, it is easy for someone to see their situation as always having been negative, and as inevitably negative so far as the future is concerned. This is not likely the case, of course, and it doesn’t make any logical sense either – but try explaining that to someone who is depressed. Even if you succeed in winning the logical argument, they’ll just simply agree and withdraw and not have the energy to follow through, or internally believe that, while the treatment you recommend would work for someone else, it won’t for themselves for whatever reason.
p> You’re not the first and won’t be the last person to try to support a friend through a depression. It’s a difficult thing you’re trying to do, as you are bound to feel helpless when your well intentioned suggestions are rejected. Please don’t give up, however. Whether or not you give up on your friend is within your power, even if you cannot otherwise compel or cajole him back towards normality of mood and motivation. I’d say that the best thing you can do for your friend is to remain in contact with him so long as he’ll let you despite the fact that he is unlikely to be pleasant company. Social support is a vital thing that can, under the right circumstances, make the difference between depression recovery and relapse. Do what you can to keep him in the loop with invitations to do fun things like you might have done prior to this difficulty. Also, keep after him with polite suggestions that he seek help from a doctor regarding his depression, and most importantly, stop drinking. Alcoholics Anonymous might be a good referral, and you might even accompany him there and help him get connected to a sponsor if you like. At the same time, you are right to fear burnout and must take steps to protect yourself from rejecting the friendship. Don’t be afraid to take a break from contacting him if you need to, and don’t worry if you get angry with him or otherwise want to yell at him; that would be your own sense of being out of control talking if you feel that way, and you’ll have to deal with that feeling one way or another if you hang around this guy. You cannot control your friend, but you can possibly have a positive influence on whether he recovers or not to the extent you have energy to spare for him.