Fallen off the face of the earth
February 29, 2016 5:04 AM   Subscribe

My friend has stopped communicating with everyone around them. How much should I try to get in contact? Should I leave it be?

It has been over a month since I last heard from my friend. Before that, we talked (either texts, emails, or meeting up) at least once every 2-3 days.

They have been off work all this time, and after about 2 weeks of sick leave they stopped communicating with anyone at their work either. Everyone in our circle who I have asked, no one has heard from them - I have only heard one friend-of-a-friend report that someone visited their house a week and a half ago, but my friend would not let them inside.

Friend has a history of various health issues and no nearby family. They have been sporadically posting to Reddit and Tumblr during this time. They're alive, but beyond that I don't know how well they are.

I am concerned for my friend but I also don't want to overstep my bounds - I don't know the reasons behind their lack of communication. I don't want to become an annoyance or a source of guilt to them, but I also want them to know I'm there if they need support.

Over the past couple of weeks I have texted and emailed them (at first my usual sort of communication, then a couple 'Haven't heard from you in a while' messages, nothing too desperate or panicked), and also put a short note through their letterbox "Just wanting to make sure you're OK".
I'm tempted to drop them another note at home or reach out on the websites where I see they've posted - or should I stop trying, and wait until my friend is ready?
posted by Gordafarin to Human Relations (15 answers total)
You can have the police conduct a welfare check. I'm not sure if the guidelines for them vary by state, so you may want to look up the rules.
posted by frumiousb at 5:10 AM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Can you speak to their neighbours to ask if they've seen anyone going into the house and that you're concerned? Are you 100% sure the person is still living there?
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:13 AM on February 29, 2016

If your friend was interested in communicating with you or anybody in their social or work network they would do so. You have expressed your concern and hope for their recovery as have others. Leave it alone for now. In a couple of weeks send a message stating your concern and offering any support you're willing to give and again leave it. You may do that periodically because after a while of pushing everybody away it becomes very difficult to reinstate contact and this would give them an opening if they are looking for one.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:33 AM on February 29, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: What is this person posting about on Reddit and Tumblr? If this is the only way they're apparently communicating with the world, those posts could offer some important clues.

I'm guessing this person is experiencing profound depression and they're in a self-destructive spiral. (It's especially worrisome that they've used up their sick time and stopped communicating with anybody at work. That sounds like somebody who is not worried about earning a living, or getting a bad rep professionally.)

Not to alarm you, but this looks bad. If this is a close friend, I'd say don't worry about prying or making them guilty or whatever. Do whatever you can to get this person talking. Get the cops involved, if you must. This person is clearly in a bad situation and they are making bad decisions. That's all you know, for now.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:34 AM on February 29, 2016 [44 favorites]

Given that I have done something similar when I was in the depths of depression, I would agree with Ursula Hitler. I would risk becoming a pain in the ass in order to make sure this person was ok.
posted by jtexman1 at 5:39 AM on February 29, 2016 [19 favorites]

If something is seriously wrong and spiralling downward, it sounds like you could ultimately regret having done too little than having done too much. I fall in with Ursula Hitler as well and don't feel that there's a sense propriety that you need to worry about overstepping.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:06 AM on February 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

This sounds like some sort of crisis, especially given that they haven't returned to work after their sick leave ran out? I would give another house visit a try and be a little bit (but not overly) aggressive about it, knocking until they come to the door, so you can make sure that they are physically okay, and can communicate directly with them.
posted by xingcat at 6:46 AM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think at the point that they have lost or about to lose their jobs, unless you know them to have an unrestricted form of support from another vector, is where you should be willing to overstep boundaries even if it ends the friendship permanently or temporarily.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:56 AM on February 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

I'd roll by with some chicken soup and see what's up. That's really troubling.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:02 AM on February 29, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Ugh. Yeah, it looks like your friend needs help but doesn't want help. Stepping in here may well damage the friendship, but that's worth it if you can stop your friend from hurting themself (either actively or passively), right?
posted by anotherthink at 1:27 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far everyone. I went round their house this evening, no answer at the door after 5 rounds of knocking (and a call & text for good measure).

In terms of their internet activity offering clues, there doesn't seem to be much to go on. They've been commenting on the subreddit of their favorite webseries, and posting links to news articles on tumblr - the same kind of things they usually post.

I'm going to try going round again tomorrow. A couple other concerned friends are also going to be checking in at different times. From there, if no luck, we'll look into the police wellness check.
posted by Gordafarin at 2:25 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Maybe you know this already, but just in case: you can queue posts on tumblr to show up several times a day (or however you set it up). I know you said they post to Reddit, too, but just tumblr alone is not a good indicator that there is someone actively posting at the time posts show up.
posted by ari_ at 2:34 PM on February 29, 2016

From a Mefite who wishes to remain anonymous:
I did this while working up to a suicide attempt. Isolation for months, avoiding friends/acquaintances, communication sporadic & only with strangers--I am fairly sure my random posts & comments were no indication of my mood, though. I was trying hard to hide my state, and I knew a lot of behaviors were "giveaways," so I just avoided everyone who might notice them, and of course avoided the obvious things like giving away belongings.

I would have deeply resented any intrusion to break me out of it. I did not want help of the kind any friend would try to give. I can't tell you what might help, because I didn't get out of that hole until after the ER and ICU--and what might have helped me could hurt someone else. If someone had tried to force me out of it, it might have pushed me over the edge faster.

Do they have family? Are they on good terms with their family? Does anyone have a key?

Are you, or another friend, or a family member, willing to consult a therapist or psychiatrist for advice? Perhaps the suicide hotline? They may have good suggestions about how to help without pushing in the wrong direction.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:18 PM on February 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Going no contact from specific people is a boundary that should usually be respected. But going no contact with all friends/work/family at the same time is highly troubling. I would highly recommend contacting police to do a welfare check immediately.
posted by mikek at 7:34 PM on February 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hi all, thank you for the advice - the day I was going to call the cops, I heard back a very brief message from my friend, and this weekend I finally got to have a conversation with them.

Following a period of physical illness, they now have been experiencing some bad anxiety. They managed to get out of the house and initiated contact with me, which is encouraging. We're chatting regularly, and they are working up to getting back to normal life.
posted by Gordafarin at 3:53 AM on April 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

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