Being a Great Friend: Helping Someone Through Trying Times
It happens often: you find yourself in situations requiring your attention. An acquaintance threatens to commit suicide. You catch a glimpse of your co-worker crying in the washroom but she insists that everything is fine. A loved one is not just occasionally sad but always depressed. A person you know has just received news of a loved one’s death. You find yourself at the scene of a mishap where people are hurt and in utter shock.
Instances like these might leave you feeling confounded and confused, wondering about the appropriate way to respond. First, start by educating yourself. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the waters.
Don’t: Ignore the Warning Signs/ Do: Be Attentive
It’s all too easy to miss out the warning signs but listening attentively is a great way to support someone. The warning signs might be in a friend telling you she’s sad and upset all the time or a sibling talking about his crippling fear of crowds. Paying attention to these signs not only allows us to identify problems but also acts as a form of emotional support. Studies show that people often value listening support more than tangible ways of help (Bone & Fry, 2006). This means ignoring all other distractions and focusing your attention on the person. Being attentive includes non verbal communication like eye contact which can convey warmth and closeness (Andersen, 1999).
Don’t: Offer Unsolicited Advice/ Do: Help Make Sense of the Situation
More often than not, a person who seeks your help is just looking for someone to help them understand a difficult situation. This could mean anything from imagining yourself in their position or asking non-intrusive questions regarding the situation. In emergency situations, provide factual information in a simple manner, if you have it. Be honest about what you know and don’t know, and offer to help with finding more information.
Don’t: Say It’ll All Be Okay/Do: Help Re-appraise the Situation
When people are experiencing negative emotions, you could help them reappraise the situation in a more positive light. Instead of saying, “I hate taking the bus, it is always crowded” re-frame the thought to “The bus might be crowded but at least it is cheaper than a taxi”. This change in thinking can help regulate emotions in a healthy manner. Additionally, re-appraising the situation might help come up with alternative, creative solutions.
Don’t: Be Dismissive of their Feelings/Do: Acknowledge and Accept their Emotions
A natural reaction to someone’s state of sadness might be to say “oh, it will go away”. However, acknowledging a person’s feelings is an excellent way of expressing your understanding and support. Statements such as “I’m so sorry. I can imagine this is very difficult for you”, may help. Accepting the person unconditionally and with empathy creates a safe space for the person to disclose more and feel valuable.This can be accompanied by expressing appreciation of the person’s strengths and efforts to cope.
Don’t: Offer Help if You Can’t Deliver/Do: Refer Them to a Therapist
As much as you’d like to be a constant source of support, it is virtually impossible to always be available to help a person in need, be aware of the limits and refer them to an expert wherever necessary. In many situations, the best way to help is to provide referral for psychological treatment. Try doing your research on good therapists in your area and offer to go along and wait outside for the first appointment.
Take the first step towards reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness and make an effort to create a safer, more constructive space for those struggling with emotional pain. Reach out to someone today!
If a friend is struggling with emotional or psychological distress, an InnerHour therapist might be able to help you.
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