It can be difficult to know how to support a friend when they come to you in need. That’s why we’ve prepared this brief guide with things for you to think about. It should not be viewed as prescriptive, but as a set of suggestions. The content of this section is largely based on Sophie Buck’s guide which is linked below and well worth a read.
Starting a conversation
Sometimes it can be difficult to know how to start a conversation with someone if they look like they’re struggling. You want to respect their privacy, but you also care about them and want to offer your support. A good way to show your friends you care is by checking up on them regularly. By doing this, you are offering them opportunities to talk about what’s going on and making yourself more approachable to them. Another good thing to do is to gently encourage a response beyond ‘I’m fine’. And if they don’t want to talk, let them know that that’s okay and that you’re there for them if they ever do want to.
Listening is essential to supporting friends. By giving your friends a space where they can be heard, you validate their experiences and make them feel supported by you. Allowing your friend to talk through what’s going on can also help them organise and process their thoughts.
Some tips on how to be an active listener
Be warm, attentive and non-judgemental.
Ask relevant, open questions such as “How did that make you feel?”
Ask about things you don’t understand to avoid miscommunication - the better you understand how they’re feeling the more able you are to help. Keep your tone tentative and non-judgemental.
Acknowledge their feelings rather than offering a solution.
Check if your advice or opinion is wanted.
Help them talk through their options without telling them what to do - remember you can’t solve their problems.
Allow them the space to cry - you don’t need to fill the silence, you can reassure them and potentially comfort them, but ask before making physical contact.
End the conversation properly, not abruptly. If you have to rush off, give your friend a time warning. Sometimes it’s good to end the conversation with action points, such as services they plan to contact, or something nice you can do together soon.
It’s important to remember when supporting your friends that your feelings and commitments are also important. Make sure you’re getting the right support too; it can be stressful keeping everything to yourself, so getting support is important for your own wellbeing.
It is important to set boundaries, so that you’re not overwhelmed, you don't overstep and your personal life is not infringed upon. It's also important for your friend so that they do not expect more of you than you can give. Unfortunately, you can’t be there for your friend 24/7, and you have your own life to look after too, so if you can’t talk right at that moment, say so. Just let them know that you care, and offer them another time when you will be available to talk.