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I'm looking for advice on how to deal with a complicated situation I'm going through. This is my last semester at college, and the only course I have left consists of developing a single, final project. Projects are either proposed by teachers, or by students themselves, in which case it needs to be approved by the teachers themselves. Suffice to say, teacher proposed projects are sparse, so most students usually propose one themselves.

A friend of mine (let's call him Joe) and I proposed a project that's been accepted, based on an idea that he had. I recently started working, so I don't have as much time to dedicate to the project as Joe does, but I'm really excited about it and wouldn't mind putting any and all free time I have into it, however sparse it may be. But the issue is, Joe is going through a depression. Every time we get together to work on the project, he acts uninterested and unmotivated. Which is totally understandable, given his situation.

My concerns are that, if Joe is unwilling (or should I say unable) to make at least the same effort as I, I don't think the project will succeed. I've tried to make him feel excited about it, to no avail. At the same time, I don't want to give up on it, for two reasons. First, I really like the project, and I fear that I might not have a chance to change and do another one this semester. Second, he's my friend and I care for him, and I want him to want to do it, as I think it would help him cope with his depression. Continuing the project without him feels like "stealing" his idea, so I'm not going to do that.

I'm really conflicted here because I really want to finish college this semester, not a year from now, but at the same time I want to make it with him, and with his idea. But I don't think it's possible if he doesn't somehow cope with his problem. My question is: how can I voice my concerns in a way that doesn't make him feel bad, running the risk of him just giving up on the project? How can I ask him if he really wants to do it? I just want to know if I can count on him.

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The answer depends on the cause of the depression

When the depression of your friend is linked to him being unable to meet the academic requirements it will damage you and him if you try to make the final project a joint effort. You should just do it alone!

When the depression of your friend is not linked to the academic requirements then you should not try to solve this problem alone. First talk to your friend. Make clear that you care about him but also that you don't want to jeopardize your own progress. Propose a meeting with your friend and your professor to discuss the problem. Try to go for an arrangement that allows the two of you succeeding in time AND agree upon a plan B that allows for you to succeed alone.

When your friends is not able to keep himself to the schedule, don't become angry or upset. Just discuss this fact with your professor and friend and go for Plan B.

This whole setup will costs some extra time, however due to the transparency it will keep the relation with both your friend and also the professor open and clean and allowing for a possible preservation of a good friendship without sacrificing yourself.

Sacrificing yourself will certainly damage the friendship and In my opinion may aggravate the depression of your friend. He might start to think: "I'm no good, I even s.... up the education of my best friend”!

Also remind your friend that most therapists will demand an active participation of him in his own recovery. So an active mind set and physical exercises will be part of most therapies. So trying to engage himself in the final project may even help him to overcome his depression...

  • Can you please clarify, why is it not recommended to join forces if the root cause of the depression is inability of the friend to meet academic requirements? I think taking the hardest half of the job might ease the tension for our friend even at the cost of our own time. Whether it is an acceptable course of action for OP or not is another question, though... – user2851843 Mar 2 '18 at 11:27
  • My statement needs some Nuance!! Given enough time and money you might opt for trying to make matters more explicit for yourself. What do you expect in return? Why do you really want to help? What helps in these situations is to talk to someone who doesn’t shy away for asking hard questions for making your expectations more explicit. After that you can make a more rational and more honest decision. In that process, you can inform your friend better about your expectations making the situation for him also more transparent. – Paul Franke Mar 15 '18 at 10:17
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It seems like there are two issues here:

  1. Your friend has mental health issues.
  2. You have a joint project to manage and it looks like it might not be finished in time.

I would see about approaching both of these somewhat separately. You are genuinely concerned about your friend's wellbeing, so (if you haven't already) you could gently approach him to let him know that you are available for support and see if there is anything you can do to help him.

It's a difficult subject so I'm sure exactly how you do this will depend on whether the two of you have discussed the subject before and how close you are as friends, but perhaps consider bringing it up when the two of you are alone together (which might even be while you are working on this project):

You seem to be a little down lately. Is everything alright? Is there anything I can do to help?

or

You've mentioned that you've been feeling depressed, have you considered getting help for that?

As for the project, I think that has to come afterwards. Perhaps although he would like to work on it, right now it is just stressing him out. Ask him if it would help for you to take on more of the project, don't go for an angle of whether he is unwilling or uninterested.

  • Thank you for your answer. I forgot to mention: his condition is diagnosed, he's currently in treatment, and we've talked about it many times. I'm definitely not gonna push for the angle of whether or not he's interested, but at the same time I don't want to seem patronizing. As for the project having to come afterwards, I totally understand what you're saying, but just moving to another project because I feel it might fail and make him feel worse, I don't want to do it without discussing it with him and knowing he agrees and understand that decision. – cosh Feb 28 '18 at 16:38
  • It might seem like I'm ask him to decide if I should move to another project or not, though. So that's why I'm asking what's the best way to do it. – cosh Feb 28 '18 at 16:41
  • Ah, I see, that was a little different to what I had imagined (that perhaps you hadn't talked about it before or that it was a more recent development). It's a difficult situation, I definitely think that if you're considering moving to another project, you should talk to him about that decision first. I think at some point, unless things improve, you will need to bring up the subject with him. Do you think there's any possibility of getting help from the teacher e.g. extending the deadline? Hope your friend gets better and you manage to resolve this. – Boombastic Feb 28 '18 at 17:03
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I am speaking from the perspective person who has gone (just recently) through phases of depression. As everybody is different, what would have worked for me might not work for Joe. So, handle all of this with care.

Remember that a depressed person does not want to feel and behave this way and often carries a lot of guilt how their situation influences others. It is incredibly easy to make them feel guilty about anything. That means while you might think if you try to talk about your concerns and problems without putting any blame on them, he will still feel bouts of guilt about it. Instead, try a very solution-based approach. A solution for him, not for you. But of course, that solution should also match your needs.

From your post, it is not clear if the depression is diagnosed and if he is currently under any treatment for it. If he is not, that makes it pretty difficult to predict if and how much worse he might get how quickly. Which makes it a hard decision for you to tell if you are willing to try and do this with him.

Thus, I would go and try to talk about how the two of you can make this easier for him. Maybe he will ask to do less of the work, then you know at least on what base you can work if you still want to. Maybe he actually wants to drop the project but didn't want to let you down. Then you can decide together if that is what you both are going to do. Maybe he needs more guidance and very clear tasks (small bites that he can accomplish) but feels unable to break down his larger tasks into those bites by himself, because everything feels so overwhelming. Then you could help with setting those up and take on the part of a manager.

In the end, I would say there is no way to know if you can count on him. As much as he loved the project and wants to do it, the depression can be stronger. (I was close to giving up some project that I have been working on for over 4 years. And that I still love. Just because it was overwhelming at that time.) You have to make a conscious decision about how much personal risk you can take and emotional strength you can offer. You (and this project) could be a very positive force in his recovery, but he cannot promise anything definitive in response right now.

  • Thank you for your answer. Yes, his condition has been diagnosed and he's currently in treatment. I understand what you're trying to say when you say that there's no way to know if I can count on him. I'd like to know if it's okay to ask him though? As you said, maybe he actually wants to drop the project. But if I ask him, I'm afraid he'll think that I don't feel confident in continuing (and it's true I don't, but just if he doesn't), and give up when he actually might not want to. – cosh Feb 28 '18 at 16:31
  • As I said, if you manage to make him feel that you want to help, not put pressure on him, then it should be okay. Directly asking if he wants to drop the project might be too much, though. I would go for "How can we make this easier for you?" If he answers "It can't be easier." then you can follow up with "Okay, if it is too much to bear for you right now I promise I won't be mad at you if you decide to drop the project. I can sure find another one to do. Maybe we can pick this up as a hobby project sometime later after you feel better." – skymningen Mar 1 '18 at 8:39
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It may sound cold, but you absolutely should consider the fact that, regardless of his mental health condition and your friendship, you are paying for your education and your grades matter way more than he does. The very first thing you should do is speak to your professor about an extension.

People always want to do "the right thing" and help those in need, especially those they care about, but he also has a responsibility to you. Part of depression (and I'm speaking as someone who has suffered severe depression their whole life) is self pity. While there may be biological factors beyond this person's control that are causing him to act this way, he still has free will and still carries personal responsibility to both himself and others. If he is going to hurt your ability to succeed for his own selfish reasons, even if it's seemingly beyond his control, then perhaps he's not that great of a friend.

However, this is the sort of thing his therapist should be working on with him, not you. I would be supportive of him, and if you can get an extension on your project so that you, or both of you, can finish it and turn it in, then you can focus on him once the project is done. But until then, he's actually hurting you for his own (non)benefit, and that is extremely unfair to you. Your education is the most important thing right now, nothing else.

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I had a very similar situation and this is what I did about it:

1) I had a sit-down chat with my friend over coffee and explained my concerns and how much I cared about them but that they were interfering with something that meant a lot to me.

2) I asked my friend to make a decision to either shape up until our thing was over (it was an event they committed to and I really depended on them for the event to be a success), or to help me find someone to replace them.

I don't know if you can replace your friend in this situation, so the answer above about speaking to your professor may be the route to take. If you can ask your friend to go with you when you speak with them, it has the potential to work itself out in that meeting.

Good luck, I know this is a tough situation. It worked out for me because the friend rallied the muster to finish the event and everything went smoothly, and they even thanked me for motivating them. Maybe the same could happen for you and your friend?

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Here are your options, as I see them:

a) Withdraw from Joe's project. Within this, there are two branches: withdraw and take this class again next year; versus: find a new project for this semester (might require an extension/Incomplete)

b) Continue with Joe's project, but willing to do all the work while Joe gets credit. Note: difficult to pull off given your new job.

It's possible Joe will improve enough, rather suddenly, to get fully involved in the project, but you can't assume this will be the case.

You could set some milestones and see if you and Joe can meet them, but there's actually nothing in your post to make me think this has any significant chance of success.

Given your new job making demands upon your time, I'm not actually sure you could make a success of the project without a significant contribution by Joe. Also, your post doesn't inspire a lot of confidence that you would be able to come up with a good project concept on your own. (I hope I'm wrong about that!)

Even if you haven't decided yet, you should bring this to your instructor's attention right away. S/he may have some specific guideline or rule that might help you.

Your instructor may be able to assist with obtaining 504 accommodations for Joe. This might involve a time extension -- for Joe, but not for you.

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