Etiquette Guide

Q: I’ve been dating my boyfriend for six months, and things are going really well between us. I have a history of depression and therefore take antidepressants, but I haven’t told my boyfriend because I don’t want him to judge or think less of me. I guess I’m ashamed of taking medication. I’ve waited so long to tell him, though, and I don’t want him to think that I’ve been lying. What should I say? — Amber, Culver City, CA

A: I think you’ve just said it, my dear. First, take what you told me; then, add an apology, offer to honestly answer any questions, and say that you understand if he is upset. You’re ready to begin this discussion. Make sure the setting and timing are appropriate—difficult discussions are best had in private places, and you should have this discussion when you are both are feeling calm. But the longer you wait, the more frightening this conversation will seem. 

Q: I fear that my close friend might be suffering from depression, but I don’t know how to confront him or how to bring it up. I want to encourage him to seek help and to let him know that I’m here for him, but it’s such an uncomfortable topic to bring up, especially because I don’t want to offend him. What should I do? — Andy, Salem, OR

A: Here’s a start: “I love you, and I’m concerned about you. I want to help.”

Have the conversation in a safe environment, calmly explain why you are concerned, come prepared with some ideas for treatment that might be available for your friend, and perhaps leave him with some materials to read (he may not want to admit right away that he has a problem). Listen non-judgmentally. Even if the reasons for his feelings seem irrational, don’t belittle them. Your conversation should be about how you can help, not about how your friend should “snap out of it.”

Sometimes the best way to help a friend with depression is to simply ?spend time with him and do things with him. Get him out of the house and don’t let depression keep him isolated. This doesn’t mean you should goad him to force joviality, but do try to get him involved in activities you both enjoy.

And educate yourself about depression—it's a very complex illness. Understand that there are no quick fixes. This may be an episode in your friend’s life, or it may be a lifelong struggle. You should not take on the role of therapist for your friend, but there are lots of online resources that can give you advice on how to support him. (And remember: a person who is depressed may talk about harming himself. If this happens, take it seriously. Call 911 or somehow get the authorities involved immediately. )

Q: My roommate suffers from depression, but she refuses to get any kind of help. She complains all the time and is such a downer to be around. She always finds the negative in everything. I’m essentially tired of being around her, but we live together, and she’s hard to avoid. We’re friends as well, so I can’t completely ignore her. How should I go about my interactions with her? — Amy, Hoboken, NJ

A: The previous question was from someone who wanted to help—and there may be some good advice for you there, too. But, you can be a good, compassionate friend and still have boundaries. Perhaps a boundary you might want to set is a separate apartment because it sounds as though this roommate situation isn’t working with you.

I understand that this may not be possible, so here’s a tip for dealing with repetitively negative conversations: say, “Is there something I can do to make this situation better? I want to help, but I’m not sure talking about this again is doing that.”

And here’s one for dealing with someone who insists on being a “downer”: say, “Is there something I can do to make this more enjoyable for you? But if this just isn’t your cup of tea, maybe we can find something else to do together.”

Now, there comes a time in many friendships when you must have a frank discussion along the lines of “I love you and value our friendship, so we need to discuss some feelings I’ve been having.” Don’t be afraid to initiate this conversation. You’re not doing your friend any favors by letting resentment build—doing so will eventually destroy the relationship you say you want to maintain.  

Q: I’m battling depression pretty badly, and I feel sad, lethargic, and generally pretty awful all the time. I know it’s affecting my work performance because I’m not as enthusiastic as I used to be and I’m just not on top of my game. I’m getting help and hopefully things will get better, but I think I should tell my boss because I’m worried that I could lose my job based on my poor performance. Is that a bad idea? — Sean, Austin, TX

A: Short answer: it depends. Not knowing your boss, I can say only that ignoring poor performance is often a bad idea. You might want to have a conversation with your boss that goes something like this: “I’ve been dealing with a personal issue recently, and I worry that it has affected my performance at work. So I wanted you to know that I’m working on resolving this issue, and to ask you if you had any concerns. I want to make sure that my work performance is developing in the right ways.”

Getting a performance improvement plan in place might alleviate tension at the office, but before you do any of this, talk to the professionals who are giving you the help you need about the specifics of your situation. (Not knowing what your job is or how your boss’ personality runs, I can speak only in generalities.)

Charles Purdy writes frequently about issues related to manners (among other things). He is the author of the book “Urban Etiquette.”