We all want to be a caring and supportive friend to the people in our lives, but we are also all human beings, so we’re not 100% good at it all of the time. Here to help me lend a little insight into the art of being a good friend, is Licensed Mental Health Clinician Christy Paul. Christy is Head of Personnel and Training at TalkSpace – an innovative new app that lets you talk anonymously to a therapist in real-time, making mental health care more accessible to those of us who can’t afford to visit a therapist regularly and in person. Today, Christy is helping me reflect on being a supportive friend, even over long distances and in times of crisis, with these tips:
#1: Just listen.
In times of crisis, our friends want to know that we care about them, and often they want a listening ear more than they want advice. Rather than telling them what to do or what not to do, try just telling your friend that you care, love and accept them regardless of the situation.
#2: Avoid giving advice, and if you must, make sure they know that you won’t stop caring about them if they don’t take it.
There is a strong risk when you give someone advice that they could interpret it as a condition of your friendship, and that could make them feel strongarmed or manipulated. Be very clear with them that no matter what they decide, you will continue to be their friend and will have their back.
#3: Make time for people.
When a friend is struggling, taking a little bit of time out of your day can go a long way in making them feel better. Whether it’s making a phone call, sending a text, or scheduling a coffee date, just letting your friend know that you’re there and thinking of them can make a world of difference.
#4: Encourage them to talk to a counselor.
Counseling is helpful for all types of issues – including trauma, relationships, severe depression, anxiety, and many, many more. Therapists at TalkSpace help clients who have been diagnosed schizophrenic or bipolar, as well as clients without any diagnosis. Let your friend know that there is no shame in talking to a therapist. We all have struggles in our lives, and therapy benefits people from all walks of life. It’s nice to have someone to talk to who is on the outside looking in and not directly involved. This creates a safe space where they can discuss personal matters without bias or judgment. It can also be a very cleansing feeling to share thoughts and emotions which may have been bottled up.
#5: Don’t tell them to “just get over it.”
This is one of the most common mistakes people make when trying to be supportive of a friend who is struggling with their mental health, and it is very damaging. Unless you’ve experienced trauma, or depression or anxiety it’s very difficult to know how hard it is, and it’s not something you can just wake up and get over one day. Telling them this is at best, unhelpful, and at worst, it will make them feel like they are failing, different, or alone.
#6: Avoid cliches.
There is truth in the phrase, “time heals all wounds,” however, no one wants to hear it when they are suffering. Instead, just try listening to their story and show that you relate to them on a personal level.
#7:Be honest and assertive when dealing with gossip and bullying.
If two of your friends are taking out their problems on one another, don’t let yourself get caught in the middle. Continue to let your friends know that you care about them, but make it clear that you will not take sides. If someone is being bullied, let the bully know that their behavior is unacceptable, and if it continues, report it.
#8: Be attentive to your own needs as well.
You can’t be a good friend to others while your own needs are not being met. If you feel like your friendship is draining your resources and you’re not getting anything out of it, there’s no shame in letting it go. Good friends will be there for you as much as you are there for them.