Nothing else hurts quite like having someone you love going through a tough time that they can’t seem to shake. All you want to do is help them but it can seem impossible to find the right words. When words fail you, actions can help. There is no straightforward, one-size-fits-all guide to helping people through a rough patch. Mainly because there are a million reasons this could be happening. Clinical depression, anxiety, job loss, the loss of a loved one and with all 2020 has thrown at us it really could be nay number of things.
No matter the situation, there are a couple of general things you can do. Remember the best thing is just trying at all. Your first attempt might not work. Try a couple different techniques and be careful to not have specific expectations of how you want them to react. Knowing that, let’s begin,
Before we jump into what you can try out, how about what to avoid. I have made this mistake countless times and have learned my lesson the hard way that there are a couple things that can end up making people feel worse. Even with the best of intentions you should avoid giving silver linings. When someone is in the middle of a storm, they don’t want to hear that everything happens for a reason. That’s more of a realization that they will have when they come out on the other side. Focusing on the brightside might work for you and that’s great but those suffering from a season or a lifetime of depression do not feel the same way. The brightside more so feels like everything they aren’t able to have. They don’t want to hear about it, trust me, they already know about it. It just seems unattainable.
Another thing to avoid: giving advice.
The last thing anybody wants when they are in the mood for nothing is unsolicited advice. Even you who is not going through the rough patch likely hates when someone tries to advise you on something you didn’t ask about. With the kindest intentions in mind, this can cause your friend to pull back even harder or jump to an unpleasant reaction. If they are looking for guidance from you, they will ask.
Instead of giving advice and telling them how you think they could make it better, think about what helped you out of a rough patch. Stop yourself before you tell them about, and arrange doing it for them instead. If someone cooking you meals helped, bring them their favorite food. Maybe you just wanted you house cleaned. Go over and help them with a needed chore. Hell, maybe see if you can get it done as a surprise to them. It could be as simple as someone to come over and watch TV quietly together. Whatever it is, try to arrange that something nice for your struggling friend and I remind you again, don’t expect this to work right away- or even at all.
If you’ve ever been so depressed that you turned everyone away- you can empathize with this and understand it takes time. It takes persistence and sometimes it takes more than just you. Sometimes life really does need to cut them some slack but you being there with them through it all is something that they will remember and maybe gives them the opportunity to live another day.
It’s common for those struggling to stop replying to messages on their phone. This can be a huge deterrent to the person trying to help. Eventually, they will stop reaching out all together. Depending on your level of friendship with this person- just show up. Let me stress, don’t do this if you’ve never been to their house before. Don’t seem like a serial killer. But if you frequently hung out before, this can be a great gesture. Show up with a couple offers. Maybe their favorite drink from Starbucks with no intention to stay. Maybe with a movie you rented and some popcorn. Perhaps show up and say you were on the way to somewhere cool and thought they might like to join. Even if they say no, the fact that you thought of them is going to remind them someone cares and they have a real friend out there.
If you are just work friends, showing up at their house might not be an option but don’t completely discard this idea. Offer to take them to lunch. Surprise your favorite co-worker with a donut to start their morning off the right way. Depending on your work environment, maybe you can go the extra mile and pre-arrange a day through your boss to play hooky. A surprise day off for fun. Big gestures like that can be exactly the kind of slack they were searching for.
With all the ways you can physically be there for someone, sometimes it’s not practical. Your friend who is struggling might be long distance or isn’t seeing guests for whatever reason. This doesn’t mean you can’t help. or “show up” in other ways. Check in frequently. Weekly texts asking about their week, phone calls, and Facetime are all great ways to get in touch. You might recall I did mention they might not be replying all the time. Send them anyway. Get creative. Skip the phone and send some snail mail. A letter. A funny card. Something small from Amazon. You won’t be able to see it from where you are but it will definitely bring a smile to their face to get an unexpected piece of mail that’s NOT a bill.
After trying some of these things, your friend might feel open to some real communication. This might be intimidating if you’re not great with words. I’ve got some tips for you on this.
Be non-judgmental- Don’t jump to judging how they are handling their situation. They will immediately distance themselves. Think before you speak and find something more compassionate to say.
Understand that you might not understand- It’s hard to come to understand what someone is going through if you’ve never been there yourself. That’s okay. They probably don’t expect you to completely understand. Acknowledge that you’ve never been there before but you are there for them anyway. Listen and you might understand better at the end of the conversation.
Validate their feelings- Whatever they are feeling is real. Remind them of that. Sometimes when you’re depressed you start thinking your crazy. Acknowledge that you know they are sad, anxious or uncomfortable and they have every right to be.
Be curious- This is one you’ll have to be careful with. Be curious but about the right things. Don’t be nosy. Nosy is when you ask details about the situation. Curious is when you ask how they are feeling about what happened. If time is helping. If there is something specific they need. People feel more prone to talk when asked a question. But it’s about asking the right ones. If they want to tell you the details they will generally make it clear that they are ready to do so. Don’t push or your friend might assume that you have ulterior motives.
Healing takes time. When you help a friend, you shouldn’t do it with the intention of becoming their hero. Be the friend you would want if you were that down. Great friends are worth going to great lengths for.