Friends are our shoulders to cry on, our cheerleaders and the people we trust with our hearts. Friendships are about give-and-take: sometimes friends take care of you, and other times you’ll be the one doing the caring. Here’s how to be a good friend to someone who is going through a tough time.
Make sure your friend knows that they’re not alone, and that you are there for them and will support them. Make sure to make time for your friend – they will do the same for you when you need it.
When people are struggling they often put unrealistic expectations on themselves, or beat themselves up about not being able to cope. Remind your friend that it’s okay to not be okay – it doesn’t make them a failure. We are only human, and we all go through tough times.
Say: “You are not alone. I am here for you.”
Don’t say: “I don’t have time today, could we catch up on Friday?”
The most important thing you can do for a friend who’s going through a tough time is to listen. Sometimes, we don’t know what to say to a friend who’s sad or grieving: that’s okay. Other times we immediately want to give advice to help them solve their problem or feel better. Don’t do this – what your friend needs most when they first come to you for help is for you to just listen to them. It shows that you are interested in their lives and that you care about what happens to them. Try to create a space in which they feel safe to share, and as if they’re really being heard. Actively listening will also help you to be better able to help your friend when they ask for practical advice or support later on.
Say: “Talk to me. I’m listening.”
Don’t say: “I’ma let you finish, but first I want to tell you about a similar situation when I…”
Something that goes hand-in-hand with listening is to not judge your friend for whatever they’re saying or going through. Put your own beliefs, experiences or thoughts away, and focus on your friend’s need for support. Judging them won’t make things better. Friendship is about acceptance, even when you disagree about things.
Say: “I love you just the way you are. We’ll get through this together.”
Don’t say: “I think you’re wrong/ overreacting.”
Avoid the “Suffering Olympics”
It’s natural to want to share a similar story or heartache with your friend to show that you get where they’re coming from – but try not to do this. While it’s (usually) meant well and we’ve all done it, your friend might feel as if you’re just trying to shift the attention away from their own sadness by emphasising yours. Remember that we all experience and deal with hardship and challenges in different ways – something that seems small to you might be life-changing to your friend.
Say: “I am so sorry that this is happening to you. I am here for you.”
Don’t say: “I know you’re feeling sad, but it could be worse, like remember what happened to me that one time?”
… but don’t push your friend to take part in activities or conversations if they don’t want to. Avoid telling them to “cheer up” or “smile” – it might seem that you’re making light of their pain, even if it’s the last thing on your mind. It’s important to check in with your friends when they’re going through tough times: don’t treat them as if they’re “downers”. It might make them withdraw even further.
Say: “Is it okay if I get on your couch island with you? I’ve brought tissues and chocolate.”
Don’t say: “Cheer up, smiling will make you feel better!”
Offer practical support
If you sense that your friend is open to it, or if they ask for it, offer practical support. Perhaps they need a strategy to deal with a bully, or backup to have a hard conversation with their parents. Maybe they just need some advice.
Sometimes, your friend might need more help than you are able to give. You might realise that they’re getting themselves into dangerous situations. If something really bad has happened to them or if they are suffering from severe anxiety, are very down and don’t seem to be able to get back on their feet, be bold enough to step in and protect them: help them get in touch with professionals who specialise in counselling, or encourage them to speak to adults that they trust. Yes, this can be tricky, and they might get angry at you or refuse your help – make them understand that you love them, that you’re worried, and that you want to help them.
Say: “I have a plan that might help, if you want to hear it?”
Say: “I know someone who can help, can I introduce you/ give their number to you?”
Don’t say: “This is too heavy, I’m out.”
Be proud of them
True and loyal friends are worth their weight in gold. Tell your friend what they mean to you, encourage them in what they try and show them that you’re proud of them, even when they’re feeling low and as if they’re failing at life. Life gets us all down sometimes, but friends make getting up and trying again worthwhile.
Say: “You rock! I believe in you!”
Don’t say: “I didn’t even know you were sad.”
Where to find help
When things get tough, find help here:
- Online support forum Beyond Blue: www.beyondblue.org.au, 1300 22 4636. You can also email them, or chat to them online.
- Kids Helpline’s motto is “Anytime. Any reason.” They focus on ages from 5 to 25 and help you access support groups and peers going through similar tough stuff, so don’t be afraid to use them: https://kidshelpline.com.au/ or 1800 55 1800
- Lifeline focuses on crisis support and suicide prevention: www.lifeline.org.au/ or 12 11 14
We’ve celebrated our favourite iconic friendships for International Friendship Day: find them here!
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