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I have a friend who is usually has no issue with social life but suddenly decided to refuse any social activity, including their close friends.

They are still meeting with close relatives and friends, but refuse to go out, even on activities they normally like.

I have been in their position before, and I was actually yearning for someone to give me a little nudge ("force") to get back to my circle. Now I want to be available to help when my friend suddenly stops contacting everyone because they have a problem.

How should I help a friend that is suddenly socially withdrawn? Or should I just wait it out? The goal is to stop them from getting even more withdrawn. They don't have to spend their time with me, but I want them to stop isolating themselves.

Both this friend and me are ethnic Chinese in Indonesia, but I'm looking for answer considering Asian culture (I think the culture is similar enough across the Asian for this matter).

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    "The problem might range from still meeting with close relatives and friends, to totally cut connection from the world." - But we need you to pick one. It's too broad to require us to cover that entire spectrum in the answer. – Catija Jul 2 '17 at 18:24
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    The issue appears to be the "suddeness," not the degree of social withdrawal. Viewed in this light, the question is not too broad. – Tom Au Jul 3 '17 at 2:56
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    @Vylix: I tried to "defend" your question, so far without success. – Tom Au Jul 3 '17 at 9:24
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    Meta post. – HDE 226868 Jul 3 '17 at 13:17
  • I'd like to see more detail on this situation: is the person responsive to communication but just always says "no?" Are they ignoring you completely? Was there an instigating event? Alternately, if you can be clearer on what you want: do you want to convince them to spend time with you, or do you just want to make sure they feel welcome and able to ask for contact? – Gregory Avery-Weir Jul 3 '17 at 14:55
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You can't force them to do what they don't want to do. What you can do is make yourself available for when they are interested in social activities in your friend group.

They might have some sort of mental issue that is leading them to act against their own best interest. Alternately, they may have something going on that they've chosen not to share with you that might lead them to cut down on social events or seek out a different friend group.

If they choose to isolate themselves, that's their choice. If you want to be a supportive friend, offer them opportunities to connect in a way that doesn't pressure them to agree.

Check in periodically, letting them know that you miss them and giving them specific, low-effort ways to reconnect. You could say, "We're grabbing a beer in your neighborhood on Thursday. Stop by if you're interested; it'd be nice to see you!" or "I made a bunch of cupcakes and I'm giving them out to people; want me to stop by and give you some?"

Make sure that you let them say "no" without consequence. As someone who's sometimes become socially reserved due to depression, something that discouraged me was the social pressure to reconnect and the fear that I was letting my friends down. It made it harder to deal with my condition. If you want your friend to be happy and healthy, you should make it clear that they are welcome and that you are not condemning them for avoiding you when they feel unable to participate.

It's not your job as a friend to force your friend to be healthy; it's your job as a friend to welcome them and support them when they ask for help or want to rejoin your group.

  • I was actually expecting a "get help from expert" answer. Isn't waiting actually a gamble, which might leave them trapped in isolation? – Vylix Jul 4 '17 at 11:48
  • If your friend asks you for help, you can always recommend they get help from an expert. Trying to do so on their behalf would be an overreach on your part and might at worst lead to them being involuntarily committed, which has a good chance of alienating them from both you and the mental health community. – Gregory Avery-Weir Jul 4 '17 at 23:27
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If your friend simply wants to spend some time alone then that is fine and acceptable behaviour.

If they have a mental health issue, or a personal issue that they don't want to talk about then that is also understandable behaviour and as a friend you simply continue to invite that person out as normal and accept when they say no.

Bear in mind that if it is a mental health issue then accepting an invitation to a big event may feel like effort to them. Many people think that motivation comes before action - however this is not always the case with many illnesses. In order to gain any motivation then the person in question must choose to act first, against their lack of motivation which is a very difficult thing to do which can take some self awareness to achieve. If this is the case then smaller activities or smaller social interactions may be easier for that person to accept which may slowly build upon their motivation.

However, as I previously said - not wanting to socialise and withdrawing socially are valid behaviour choices

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As the others have said, let your friend know, from time to time, that you are available and haven't forgotten that they exist, but I would add to let the friend pick what kind of activity (maybe there's some reason why it's better not to go out, be in crowds, or do something exhausting, right now: yes, it's possible to find going out for coffee exhausting; I do).

Your friend might have a different reason for their behavior than you did. They might have a different reason for not going out than I do (physically difficult to me, and yes, my disease can have sudden onset). They will share their reason if they want to, but they probably won't want to if they don't feel you are being supportive of their choices/needs.

So just keep in touch, but don't push (or pry but it sounds like you know not to do this already).

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