DEAR ABBY: I am in my early 40s, and married with two daughters. I have a friend, “Sally,” whom I have known since the third grade. We are like sisters.

Sally has been profoundly depressed for at least 15 years. She sees a therapist and a psychiatrist on a regular basis and is on medication.

My question, Abby, is what do you say to someone who calls at least once a week, for at least an hour, crying so hard I can barely understand her? She calls to tell me how sad she is and how she doesn’t think anything in her life will improve. While I’m concerned for her and care about what happens to her, I don’t feel I can give her any advice or guidance that her counselor/psychiatrist isn’t able to give.

Short of listening and providing the proverbial shoulder to lean on, what more can I do? I feel I need to be there for her, but I also feel drained dry because this has been going on for several years. Any guidance you might offer would be greatly appreciated. — CONCERNED FRIEND IN FLORIDA

DEAR CONCERNED: You are a supportive friend, but when Sally calls crying so hard she can hardly talk, tell her that the person she needs to be talking to is her therapist. By allowing her to vent to you, you are preventing the therapist from evaluating her while she’s in crisis and giving her the tools she needs to improve. Your friend may need to have her meds adjusted or changed, and seeing Sally while she is “at the bottom” could give her therapist valuable insights. If Sally isn’t capable of placing the call to her therapist, offer to do it for her.

DEAR ABBY: I am a 14-year-old girl in eighth grade. I have plenty of friends, play the clarinet and piano, and am involved in school yearbook and theater, among other things. My problem is, I get sick a lot.

No one can figure out why I can’t go two weeks without picking up a virus. Because of this I am gone from school quite often. I can handle the occasional teasing I get from other kids, and my teachers are helpful. It’s the two school secretaries I have a problem with.

Once, when I left school during the day because I wasn’t feeling well, one of them said to me: “You need to try to be at school more. I know it’s hard, but you’ve got to try.” Other things they have said lead me to believe they think I’m faking. Now they want a note from every doctor I see. I was gone a lot last year, but they didn’t enforce this.

What is appropriate in responding to their “comments”? I’d like to ask, “Is that your opinion as a secretary?” or say, “I’m doing the best I can with my situation and you’re not helping.” Or, I could bore them with a detailed description of my medical history, or maybe complain to the principal. What do you suggest? — SICK OF IT IN IOWA

DEAR SICK OF IT: Your medical history is not the school secretaries’ business, and you do not owe them any detailed descriptions of it. However, it’s possible that the woman who advised you that you “needed to be at school more” was speaking out of concern, so try not to be defensive.

If a note from your doctor is required, you should produce one after every absence. And I recommend that you have your mother contact the principal if there are any questions about your medical status.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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