When my friends are struggling, I immediately want to help them. Whether they are experiencing depression, are going through a break up, or are just having a bad day, I want to make it go away. I am used to solving problems, so my immediate tendency is to tell my friends how to get ‘better’ or to offer a solution. What I’ve learnt though, is that often the best way I can help a friend, is just by being their friend.
We live in a world where we like to go from A to B. Processes are in a straight line, and ideally things can get fixed in a snap. But we all know people don’t work like this. Each of us is a culmination of our hopes, dreams, experiences and hurts. We are all unique and carry a different story inside of us. Because of this, we can never ‘fix’ one another when we are struggling. But as a friend, we can help a person we love take the first steps on the path to recovery.
Because we so often see the depth of the brokenness in our friends, we can get overwhelmed by the help they need. It is difficult to know how to help, let alone where to point them or what to say! It doesn’t have to be hard though, because you don’t need the answers to their problems. We don’t even need the ‘right’ words to make them feel better. When a friend is hurting, we just need to be present with them in that moment.
Just Be With Them
Having a friend sit beside you as you cry makes the moment lighter. Instead of carrying the pain alone, you share it with someone else. When a friend is struggling, their immediate need is to be heard and understood. So hear what they have to say, hold them and tell them they are valuable. You won’t fix their problem, but you will show they are not alone in it, and that counts just as much.
Offer Them Help
Healing is a lifelong process, and showing someone they are worthy of this is fundamental in recovery. Encourage your friend to speak to a mentor, a parent or their doctor about how they are feeling. Counsellors provide us with a safe place to work through our pain, so find a nearby professional and take your friend to the appointment.
What to do in a crisis
If your friend is in danger, is harming themselves, thinking about suicide or could potentially harm someone else, call 000 or 911 immediately. If your friend is showing signs of self harm or is suicidal, give them the number to Lifeline. Tell them they can call this number at any moment, day or night. A professional is on the other end of the line, and they are able to walk them through the moment.
Celebrate every victory
As your friend begins to heal and takes small steps towards recovery, you can be their cheerleader. Celebrate their first counselling appointment, the fact they told a parent they are struggling, a day clean of self harm, or the courage to wake up in the morning. Remind them that the small things count.
Walk the Journey With Them
Be committed to walking through this journey with your friend. It’s not a 24/7 thing, and it doesn’t even mean you completely understand what’s going on- it is simply about doing life with them. Hang out, call or text them, see a movie, or go for a walk. If they don’t want to talk about their feelings, that’s cool. Just sit with them. Let them know you are not going anywhere.
We cannot fix our friends and take away their pain, but we can support them. Encourage them to seek professional help, and stick by them as they enter life in healing and wholeness. Being a friend doesn’t mean you have the answers, it just means you are there. And by being there, you show your friend they matter.
If your friend is in crisis, please do not hesitate to call 000 or Lifeline on 13 11 14 in Australia.
Call 911 or 1800-SUICIDE from the United States.