The Friendship Doctor

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Losing Friends After Being Sick

My 21-year-old daughter has lost her friends after being sick.

 

Question 

Hi Irene, 

My daughter is 21 years old. At the age of 14, she was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, and we had to take her out of school. Needless to say she has lost all of her one-time friends after being sick. 

After many years of treatment she is finally on the road to recovery. It would be helpful if she had a friend or two so she can be social again. Any suggestions? 

Anxiety doesn’t help. Thank you. 

Signed, Anxious Mom

 

Answer 

Hi Anxious Mom, 

I’m glad to hear your daughter is has been diagnosed, treated and is recovering. I’m sure this must have been a long haul for you as well. 

For a number of reasons, it’s quite common for young adults to lose their friends after being sick, especially if they’ve experienced any kind of mental or emotional disorder: 

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  • Because of their symptoms, they may have been unable to sustain relationships with their peers or alienated them;
  • They may have had prolonged and difficult-to-explain school absences due to their problems;
  • They may have been “out of the loop” because of an inpatient stay at behavioral health programs;
  • They may have had to deal with the stigma surrounding these disorders, from both their peers and the parents of their peers.

It’s hard to get back to life and reconnect with social supports after any kind of serious illness, particularly for young people. And because your daughter is now a young adult, it’s more challenging than arranging play dates as a parent might do for a young child. Your daughter will have to develop the self-confidence to take some initiative on her own. You can help guide her but you can’t do it for her.

You haven’t mentioned whether your daughter is living at home or has returned to school or work, but here are a few ideas of how you might encourage her:

  • Find out whether there are any support groups nearby for young people living with anxiety disorders. This might be a good way for her to dip her toes in the water, especially if you think she lacks some of the social skills necessary to make and keep friends.
  • Suggest that she find out about courses or classes based on her talents and/or interests. Have her check out Meetup.com for groups that might interest her. This would put her in contact with other young people, hopefully in your neighborhood, who might share common interests.
  • Encourage her to seek part-time employment or a volunteer position. 

In the meantime, offer to fill some of her spare hours, perhaps with age-appropriate relatives (e.g. cousins) but resist the temptation to hover and take total charge of her friendships. 

Hope this helps!

Warm regards, Irene

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Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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