Ask An Expert / Depression

My child with depression is close friends with another girl who is depressed. Is this friendship unhealthy?

It's important to open up to more than just one person

Jill M. Emanuele, PhD
Jill Emanuele, PhD

Senior Director, Mood Disorders Center

Child Mind Institute

I am worried about my depressed daughter's friendship with another teenage girl also going through depression. Her friend does not have to go to school—she just told me today that her friend has been home from school for months. She feels that this friend is the only person she can talk to about her illness and I feel like if she did not have that influence she would be much better. Do you think adolescents who are friends with other adolescents with depression almost keeps them in depression? She has other friends but not as close as this friend.

Depression is a biologically based disorder which can be strongly influenced by environmental factors. Adolescents who are struggling with depression are going to experience and struggle with the symptoms of the illness regardless of whether their friends are also depressed. So I wouldn’t say that your daughter’s association with her friend is solely maintaining your daughter’s depression. Nevertheless, your daughter’s knowledge and experience of the way her friend is managing depression may be reinforcing some of the negative behaviors that keep her depression alive, such as wanting to stay home from school.

You said that your daughter feels her friend is the only person she can talk to about her depression. One thing you can do is to gently challenge that thought by stating something like, “I’m wondering if there are potentially other people you can talk to about depression that you don’t yet realize can be helpful?” Particularly, you can suggest that your daughter’s therapist is there exactly for the reason of coping with depression. If she does not feel comfortable talking openly with her therapist, encourage your daughter to bring this up during therapy. You could also ask if you can be of assistance in communicating that message, or offer to have a family session to discuss why she feels like she can’t open up to her therapist.

Consider sitting down and having a conversation with your daughter about your concerns. You can encourage her to seek out other friendships as well, explaining that it is important for everyone to spend time with more than just one person, and that your family is also here to provide support and love for her.