I never understood how deeply depression could affect someone’s life until I watched my friend deal with it.
I met Lucien when we were college freshmen. He was a tall, skinny guy with thick glasses and a head full of thick, curly hair. Despite his geeky appearance, he was quite confident, outgoing, and gregarious. Lucien was also one of the smartest guys I had ever met. He made a perfect score on the SAT and had earned a full scholarship into our university’s honors program.
Lucien and I studied and partied together during our first semester of college, but I noticed a change in him when we returned from Christmas break. He no longer wanted to hang out on the Yard or go to our favorite nightclubs. In fact, he stopped doing all the thing college kids do, including going to class. Each day, I’d return to the dorm only to find Lucien curled up in his bed.
“Why are you sleeping all day?” I asked him. “Do you want to flunk out of school?”
“I don’t want to flunk out of school,” he said. “I’ve just been feeling tired. I’ll go to class tomorrow.”
Of course, he didn’t go to class tomorrow or the next day. It got so bad that I had to bring him food every day because he wasn’t eating.
Lucien’s roommate would say things to him like, “You need to man up and snap out of it.” These words did nothing to improve the situation. In fact, they made Lucien withdraw more.
I would sit with him and talk to him every night after I finished my homework. Actually, I did most of the talking while Lucien started blankly at the TV. His roommate just shook his head in disgust.
“Why don’t you just go home,” he said one night. “You’re wasting everybody’s time.” Lucien’s roommate’s anger stemmed from the fact that he was struggling to pay for college. He saw Lucien as a privileged kid who was squandering a free education.
After several weeks, Lucien finally opened up to me. He had earned a C in one of his math classes. That grade shook him to his core because he had always earned straight As.
“What if I don’t have what it takes to make it in college?” he asked.
I assured him that he did. I wanted to say more, but as a college freshman, I was ill-equipped to offer much advice. I eventually talked to the RA about the situation, and he was able to get some help for Lucien.
I wish I could say that Lucien’s life turned around immediately, but it didn’t. He had to drop out of school and return home for treatment.
I still talk to Lucien periodically. Although he is doing better, he still deals with bouts of depression. During a recent conversation, he told me that he was going to be a dad for the first time. I congratulated him and told him to keep in touch. Before he hung up, I detected a slight pause in his voice.
“Thanks for helping me during that rough time,” he said. “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t been there for me.”
“No need to thank me,” I said. “I did what I needed to do to help a friend.”
Depression is a topic men rarely discuss. Unfortunately, depression affects thousands of men each day. I encourage men to be more vocal about this issue and to get more involved. Being able to identify symptoms is important, but being a compassionate friend can go a long way toward helping someone cope with his or her depression.