Obligated to talk to roomie about potential depression/drinking problem?
June 20, 2015 10:27 AM   Subscribe

While she doesn't get obliterated, my roommate does drink a substantial amount most nights. I think she may be depressed. My friend pointed out that as her roommate I may be the only one aware of her behavior. Am I obligated to talk to her about it? How do I bring it up?

My roommate drinks by herself in the living room most nights. I don't keep close tabs on her drinking but I would say 2 glasses of wine poured to the brim (so really like 4 glasses) is not unusual for her in the evening. In addition, she doesn't work a lot and spends most of her free time laying on the couch playing candy crush and watching law and order. I think she feels sort of aimless. She has a few more classes to finish her degree and she still hasn't taken any steps to finish (she's 25). She is sedentary to the point where I think it is affecting her health. She is very easily fatigued by things like running errands, which I don't think is normal for someone so young. She also sleeps really late every day. I think she may be depressed, though she acts perky.

Some background on our relationship: we moved in together almost 1 year ago. I found her on Craigslist. I would say we are friends, but we're not really close or anything. We don't have a lot of chemistry as friends. She's a sweet, well meaning person, but she does grate on my nerves a lot (I'm pretty sure she is oblivious to this though). So am I even the right person to bring this up? I'm not sure her friends and family know what's going on with her. If I do bring it up, how do I go about it?
posted by efsrous to Human Relations (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I spend a lot of time laying on my belly on my bed alone in my room drinking PBR and watching Gilmore Girls. I am aware of my own mental health issues. I have had Craigslist roommates before, and while I am open enough about my struggle with mental illness to be comfortable chatting with them about it, I would definitely consider a conversation like this emotional labor focused around making them feel more comfortable around stuff that really wasn't their business rather than something super helpful for me.
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:30 AM on June 20, 2015 [36 favorites]

You are not (I assume) a mental health professional. You are not this woman's best friend. By your own admission the two of you are not particularly close. What you have is at best a friendly business relationship. Unless you want to be back here in a month or two asking for a script as to how to ask your roommate to move out because your relationship has deteriorated, stay out of her business. There's no way to approach her without it becoming awkward, and probably affecting her self-esteem and mental health more.

If she approaches you and says she's having a hard time, that's a different story. But I would still be cautious in that event.
posted by vignettist at 10:44 AM on June 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know. She sounds pretty dysfunctional. Mental illness being what it is, she might not be entirely clued in on the fact that she appears to be a downward slide - especially given that all the activities you mention are avoidance-oriented. A gentle heads-up from an outside observer that the way she's living might be problematic might be helpful.

I think, if you're inclined and want to, you could just ask her how she feels, being careful to avoid implying judgement (which could creep in in talk about the sleeping in, video games, drinking, and slipping courses). Maybe focus on something more neutral that she herself might worry about. Possible script: "Hey, I just want to ask - how are you feeling these days? Is everything ok? I notice that you seem to be tired quite often lately, and I just wanted to check in".

She might brush it off, but it's possible that the suggestion that things don't look so fine from the outside could prompt a blip of self-awareness. She also might open up, in which case, listen compassionately without taking responsibility for her well-being. "That sounds really hard. What about talking to a doctor about this?"
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:00 AM on June 20, 2015 [13 favorites]

This is totally not for you to bring up with her. She knows how her life is going.
posted by side effect at 11:04 AM on June 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

You're not really friends. You're friendly, but that's not the same thing. It's like having work friends - you may get along ok at work but you don't actually want to do anything social with them. I don't think you're the right person. Nothing you say will make any difference because you don't have the history of a relationship - it will come across as criticism not concern. Ask yourself, do you want to do this because you think it will make an impact on her, or is to make yourself feel better because you did something? The best thing you can do is be her friend and just be generally supportive, but you can't force those things and as you don't seem to like her, I don't see that as a good option - pity friendship isn't going to end well. So the next best thing is to keep being friendly but don't act like you know her, or you understand. At best, it's condescending.
posted by Aranquis at 11:04 AM on June 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, made me reflect on why I want to bring this up in the first place. Maybe I just wanted to feel like a good person? Or maybe I just want my couch/tv back, hah. It never really occured to me to talk to her about it until my friend mentioned I may be the only one seeing it, but even so it's obviously not my business. I've been depressed myself and I wouldn't have wanted even a close friend to try to solve my problems, so I'm not really sure what I was thinking! Thanks for the reality check y'all! I think what I will do is just say it seems like she's been a little down lately and that I'm here if she needs someone to talk to. Definitely will not push any further than that unless she brings it up.
posted by efsrous at 11:16 AM on June 20, 2015 [9 favorites]

Sorry to add to the pile on, but this crosses the line into the "definitely not your business" territory, verging on "creepy nosy roommate worth running away from as quickly as possible" territory. The great thing about finding roommates on craigslist is you can interact with them on a professional level and not have to worry that they're judging you. Feeling comfortable in one's home is really important, especially for introverts and people who may have complicated coping strategies. Don't go out of your way to try to shame someone who may already be feeling a bit low. Everyone will wind up feeling worse.

Also, if drinking a bottle of wine and feeling aimless most weeknights were broadly considered a sign of mental illness, the industrialized world would be in serious trouble. One might argue this is true, but the way to start solving it isn't by making your roommate feel persecuted in her own home.
posted by eotvos at 11:20 AM on June 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

Maybe she has a medical condition she is unaware of, like chronic pain, allergies or a thyroid issue that she is self-medicating?

You really don't know what's going on. This probably won't end well if you start hypothesizing out loud to her.
posted by jbenben at 11:22 AM on June 20, 2015

Response by poster: I also wanted to clarify that we genuinely are friends as well as roommates even if we don't have the best friend chemistry. We go out to dinner and brunch together sometimes, went to Yosemite together over New year's, and went to each other's birthday parties. I pluck her eyebrows. I'm not practically a stranger or anything.
posted by efsrous at 11:25 AM on June 20, 2015 [3 favorites]

For about two years, I lived with one of my closest friends who probably had more stretches like this than not. We talked about everything--including her struggles with depression--but I would not have dreamed of opening that conversation if she hadn't, and I never said anything about her drinking, sedentary ways, obsessive internetting and watching endless TV. I mean, it's not like she didn't know what she was doing. And even if she hadn't been open about her struggles with depression--the most I would ever have done was open-endedly asked if everything was going okay with her.

Do I think she was self-medicating in an unhealthy way? Yes. I think she has loads of unhealthy coping mechanisms in addition to those as well (I could write a book on it, but she's not the subject here). And on the rare occasion when she makes mention of them (we no longer live together but she's still one of my best friends), I discuss it then, but I think it would have been incredibly disrespectful and boundary-hopping for me to initiate a conversation about any of it, and I am pretty sure it would have irrevocably damaged the friendship while doing nothing to change how she copes with things.

That may be down to my friend, who she is and how she deals with things, but I just wanted to give a data point saying that I didn't think this was my place even when it was a best friend.
posted by tiger tiger at 11:45 AM on June 20, 2015

2 glasses of wine poured to the brim (so really like 4 glasses) is not unusual for her in the evening.

IMO that's really not that heavy of drinking.

The other stuff does sound like depression, though. I think just asking her, "Are you OK? You seem kinda down" wouldn't be too pushy, but bringing up a laundry list of symptoms and armchair diagnosing her would be.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:39 PM on June 20, 2015 [11 favorites]

You are not obliged. I do think there's a way to being it up as a friend, if you want to, though. I would be cautious about starting with listing the behaviors as not good for her, but start from a place of, "you seem a little stuck, are you ok? do you want to talk about anything?"
posted by vunder at 1:28 PM on June 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Chiming in late to say that I think you have come up with a good formula that will open the door to conversation if she wants to have it, without crossing any major lines. Even if she doesn't want to talk about it, your gentle question might get her to start thinking about where she's at. That's not a bad thing.

In general, while you are certainly not obligated to bring something like this up, and you don't want to be intrusive, she is lucky to have someone who notices and cares what she's doing. Sometimes people can get into a hole, and if nobody around them cares enough to let them know they notice it, the hole can get deeper. I admire you for being willing to risk an uncomfortable conversation to help someone that you care about, even if you are not "super close."
posted by rpfields at 2:13 PM on June 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm really surprised by people here saying that the equivalent of four glasses a night not being heavy drinking. I would have thought if she's doing this most/all nights, it's a decent amount. It's not blackout drunk level by any means but most people don't drink a bottle of wine a night that I'm aware of. I think the OP is right to be concerned but not close enough to really be able to say much more than ask her if she's ok. Also, if the room mate's gone through a breakup or whatever it's entirely likely this could be a short term thing coping thing anyway. I hope she's alright.
posted by Jubey at 6:22 PM on June 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

most people might not drink that much but a lot of people do, especially 25 year olds. if you want to let her know of your concern, ask how she's doing, don't make it about the drinking or your armchair diagnosis of depression.
posted by nadawi at 9:19 PM on June 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think this may be worse coming from a roommate, frankly. Who wants to feel judged and watched in their own home? Admit you just want your couch back and find a way to get that without exposing how little you think of your roommate's lifestyle. Stuff like this is why I made sure to never have a roommate past age 23.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 12:27 AM on June 21, 2015

If your roommate were having a heart attack, would you say something or offer help? Or would you consider it none of your business?

Depression can be a life-threatening illness. It's wrong to ignore it. It's true that she might be completely aware of her issues and doesn't need or want your help or concern. But maybe not.

I like the approach of Jacqueline and vunder: "You seem a little down. Would you like to talk?" If she doesn't want to, let it go. She may decide to talk later when she's ready.

You could invite her to join you in a fun and healthy activity like a morning hike or birdwalk, something that would get her off the couch and into the sun.

There have been times in my life when a little friendly concern would have made a difference.
posted by islandeady at 4:54 AM on June 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

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