DEAR HARRIETTE: I am worried about my friend. She has become somewhat of a hermit. I often invite her to do things together, and she excuses herself with something along the lines of "being tired" or needing to "watch her cats." I might have thought that it had something to do with me except for the fact that other friends' requests merit the same response. She has had a history of depression, and I feel as if her isolation might be a negative sign. I worry about pushing her too hard or counseling her because I do not want her to feel attacked and recoil. Please, if you can think of a gentle way that I might be able to help her, let me know. -- Worried in Westchester, Scarsdale, N.Y.
DEAR WORRIED IN WESTCHESTER: If you believe she would answer her door, why not show up at her home with some take-out food and a movie? If she will let you in, sit with her and see if you can get her to talk. By listening, you may be able to hear something that will allow you to start a real conversation about how she is doing.
Since you know already that she has suffered from depression, if you get the opportunity, ask her if she thinks she is depressed now and if she feels that she needs support. Empathize with your friend. Take what she says to you seriously. Be mindful not to give her advice or tell her that everything will be OK. You do not know that. Medical experts have said that giving false hope to people suffering from depression can be annoying or even debilitating. Be a good listener.
Do not give up on your friend. Keep reaching out and letting her know that you care about her. Your other friends should do the same.
DEAR HARRIETTE: What is good advice to give to a friend who is 21 years old, single and feeling like there is no girl out there for him? He's getting lonely, and it's really affecting his self-esteem. What can I say to him that would actually be helpful? He is a good friend and a good guy, but he just doesn't seem to meet anyone interesting. -- Feeling for My Friend, Chicago
DEAR FEELING FOR MY FRIEND: As a young man, your friend has his whole life ahead of him, yet unfortunately he is stuck feeling alone. Reminding him of his youth is not going to help him. Instead, you might tell him something that I have learned: Make a list detailing the qualities he values in a partner. Suggest that he be specific. By clearly articulating to himself what kind of woman he is looking for, it will help him to notice someone who embodies those qualities.
Now, he also has to get out and meet people. Once he is confident that he has clarity on the type of woman of interest to him, he should go to places where people like that spend time. He should enjoy himself as he keeps his eyes open.