When your friend is going through a hard time, it can be difficult to understand the best way to support them. They might open up to you and in trying to relate through personal experience (as we sometimes find ourselves doing), you can push them away by seeming self-absorbed. Recently, we’ve realized that,for different situations, your friends need different kinds of support. All you need to do first is listen to understand what kind is best.
When it’s a workplace issue, you can try giving advice, or providing a different view on the situation. If it’s something you don’t know too much about, just listen. You can offer to help as much as possible, looking over work or resumes, or providing for them as much as you feel comfortable with in a time of need.
For affairs of the heart, although it can often be the case, try not to immediately jump to “dump them,” which we must admit is our go-to. It could potentially be seen as an attack on their relationship (for good reason — you are telling them to drop someone they care about), and they may get defensive over the person they were just crying over. Instead, listen, provide what advice you can on communication, and speak openly.
With medical problems, you can ask how they’re feeling, or if they need anything, but don’t delve too much into medical questions. If they wanted to share those details with you, they would.
When it comes to depression, anxiety, and other issues of that nature, just listen. Most often, the desired response after venting to a friend about your mental health is just a shoulder to cry on, not advice, or offers to help. If you want to help, you can do small things to show up for them. Cooking a warm, comforting dinner is a very kind way to take care of those you love. If you are struggling with similar issues, you can relate to them, but try to keep the conversation on them.
We think the most important thing to remember in cases like this is to remind yourself that while it is important to be there for your friends, you also have to be there for yourself. It’s easy to let yourself be someone that friends can depend on, but don’t forget about your own mental health.
The biggest one, grief, is something separate from all this, so I’m thinking we should keep it that way and come back to that topic in another piece. For now, we recommend reading this Psychology Today article on small things you can do to show up for a grieving friend.