How to help a depressed friend?
October 6, 2019 4:01 PM   Subscribe

Hi. I have a dear friend that has been feeling quite down in the dumps which seems to have exacerbated the past few months. I am not exactly sure how to help, since I would like to help. I mentioned that he could possibly see a therapist or perhaps talk to his doctor -- but he is silent and did really make an effort to do that.

My friend is from Syria, now is granted full citizenship in Canada and has not seen his family in ten years -- I am not exactly sure why (it may have to do with visa issues, not being able to visit). He had to come to Canada to learn English, and continue his bachelor education at 26 and did not finish until he was 36, and is now doing a second bachelor because he needs computer science in order to become a mathematician/physics professor. I think the fact that he has been held back for so long with his education has put a damper on his goals and aspirations -- he feels behind in life since he is 37 now, and has not seen his family since he was 26. I feel quite bad for him, as he seems to miss his family so much (luckily his younger brother is here as well, but is now in another city seven hours away from him). I can imagine it must be lonely and difficult. Is there anything I can do to help my friend feel more positive and hopeful for his career and to reunite with his family? He is hoping to fly out to see them next summer, but I am not sure why he wasn't able to do that in the past ten years as a residence in Canada (not sure how it works). Should I encourage my friend to see a therapist again, his doctor, or perhaps encourage him to explore his hobbies? He also said he does not eat enough and does not find eating pleasurable -- and he has lost weight as well. He rarely pursuits his hobbies because he is depressed and is kind of a workaholic when it comes to studying (perfectionism) for his computer science degree (needs to keep up a good GPA). I am not sure what to do -- I am quite concerned and worried about my friend's mental health and physical health.
posted by RearWindow to Human Relations (5 answers total)
Ask if you can start a new tradition—you bring dinner over to his place once a week and you two hang out and talk about how your week has been. If there are other friends in your group who can join, even better. I had a group of friends that did this for a while on Sunday nights. It’s easier to ask some of the questions you have over a meal.

And yes, definitely also talk to him about seeing a therapist.
posted by sallybrown at 4:22 PM on October 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

This might sound super counterintuitive, but can you ask him to help you with something? Nothing too crazy or unpleasant but something like a light outdoor chore, building a bookshelf, doing some meal prep together (that you could then send a bunch home with him?) He might be more willing to engage if he perceives that it is a favor to you, it would allow mutual labor and the good conversation that often goes with, and it would provide some openings to gently ask how he’s doing in a broader sense. I know when I am in a funk I am very unlikely to do anything social but would probably drag myself out to help a friend.
posted by charmcityblues at 4:34 PM on October 6, 2019 [21 favorites]

Is this person a romantic partner? Does he want your help and advice? On some level, there’s not much you can do to help him if he’s not interested in helping himself. I can’t speak to Syrian culture, but in many places, therapy and even seeking any kind of medical treatment can be stigmatized and a sign of weakness. He might also be homesick and concerned about the state of his home country and feel worried for his family. Those are legit concerns and you can’t really fix them.

If he’s just a friend, then you can be a good friend by inviting him to do activities and being open to hearing his concerns. If he’s a romantic partner, and he really seems like he’s not taking care of himself, you can draw a boundary and say that you need for him to do that or else you don’t want to be involved with him longer.

But ultimately he needs to be able to see these things as problems and want to change in order for that to happen.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:04 PM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Where are you in Canada - is it a city where there are other Syrian refugees/immigrants? Or that have support services for refugees/immigrants? That would be my first suggestion - to find other people from his homeland that he can connect with. If there aren't any, maybe there are online groups like on Facebook where people experiencing the same struggles can chat about them and support each other. He needs to find people from his community - maybe he doesn't even realize that.

If you do sallybrown's weekly dinner idea, maybe you know of someone else who's been in his situation (refugee/immigrant from Syria or even not from Syria) and can invite them as well, and they can start talking organically.
posted by foxjacket at 6:17 PM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @bluedaisy Yes, just a friend -- not a romantic partner. Thanks for the tip -- definitely up to my friend to change it internally -- how he looks at it I suppose.
posted by RearWindow at 7:02 PM on October 6, 2019

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