When “Maria” and I first met, we promised each other to be as close as sisters forever, but things have changed over the years. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in our early 20s and will not take medication or go to counseling. Maria prefers to self-medicate with drugs. She’s never been one to accept consequences for her actions.
My fiance strongly dislikes Maria and has no desire to mend any potential friendship he could have had with her. After three opportunities to make a positive impression on him, she failed spectacularly at what was her final shot, when she lied about some drug paraphernalia to a group of people at a party, making scapegoats out of us. She casually told us about it later, like we were supposed to just laugh it off.
We were deeply insulted and disrespected. That was more than three years ago and we haven’t gotten together with her since. She’s since gone on with her life, as though she’s never wronged us.
Now, we’re putting together our wedding guest list. Maria messaged me on social media, saying she assumes she’s going to get an invitation. I haven’t responded.
I don’t intend to allow her to attend against my fiance’s wishes and my better judgment.
My head tells me honesty is best, but I’m worried that if I tell her she’s not invited and why, it could send her into a major depressive low and she may hurt herself. Or she may go the other direction and explode at us and harass us.
I don’t want to ignore the issue and I don’t want to lie to her, so I’m wondering if you and your readers might have any advice on how to let her down gently, but still honestly. I want to see her healthy and happy and successful, and I feel great joy for her when something good happens in her life.— Uneasy Friend in the West
I am often asked by a client’s love ones (who can be frazzled, baffled, and burdened with their own issues) “How do I help them?” “What do I say to them?”
It is often a tough challenge to provide real support. Telling them to meet their loved one where they are at is true, but often not enough. Therefore, I provide them with great strategies on getting it right from Matthew Roofer, MD, of the National Institute of Mental Health.
What you want to say: Can’t you see you need serious help?! What you should say: Can we agree that you haven’t been sleeping well lately? Maybe we should schedule a visit with the doctor. Want me to make the call? The difference: “It’s not at all unusual for people to be completely sick yet unaware that they’re having symptoms of a mental illness,” says Roofer. “By definition, a delusion is a false idea that a person believes to be true despite evidence that it’s not. And people who don’t want to be helped often resist well-meaning efforts. In that case, meet them where they are—appealing to what they do recognize can be a good place to start.”
What you want to say: Did you take your meds? Did you take your meds? Did you take your meds? What you should say: Can I help you set up a pillbox so you can easily remember what to take and when? The difference: Repeatedly asking anyone the same thing can quickly drive them away, and the risk is even greater when you’re dealing with someone in need. Finding ways to help that don’t require you to assume the “parent” role can lessen tension.
What you want to say: You have no reason to be depressed! What you should say: If you and your therapist agree, I think it would be helpful if I came to one of your sessions so I can get a better handle on what you’re dealing with. The difference: It’s important to recognize what’s part of the person’s illness and what’s not. Your loved one’s therapist can likely help you get clarity. Tagging along to a therapy session can give a therapist the chance to convey that it’s “not her fault” or that he isn’t “in bed all day because he’s lazy.”
What you want to say: Snap out of it already! What you should say: It won’t always be like this. The difference: Providing hope is your number one priority, especially with someone who suffers from depression. “With depression, one assumes it will last forever,” says Rudorfer. “During those dark moments, offer realistic optimism and support. You don’t have to be their therapist, but you can drive them to their next appointment.”