Friendships are some of the most important relationships you will have in your life. Many of your favourite memories are likely to be moments spent with your friends.
Friendships can be hard work sometimes, particularly if a friend is going through a tough time or is feeling down. Not knowing what to do or say at times like these can be hard, frustrating, upsetting, and emotionally challenging. However, just by stopping to think about what you could do for them shows that you are a good friend (1).
How can you be there for your friend:
Listen: Never underestimate the importance of listening. One of the important parts of listening is trying to understand the situation from their point of view. If you try and do this, you will find that you'll ask the right sorts of questions and they will appreciate having someone there who cares about how they feel. Don't assume they want advice, they may simply want someone to listen to what they are going through and to work out what they are going to do themselves (1).
Take the problem seriously: Even if the problem doesn't seem very important to you, it may be important to them. Things may be piling up and getting too much. Show them that you understand and are there to listen. Don't put them down, it doesn't help to say "things will be better tomorrow" or "keep your chin up". Their problem is real to them.
Get the facts: If your friend has a medical condition or mental health problem, learn about their condition. This simple action shows that you care and that you are not going to run away because their situation has changed, you like them for who they are.
Give them a hug: A simple gesture such as a hug or a smile can show that they are not alone and that you are there for them.
Encourage them to talk to other people as well as to you: Offer to go along with them to talk with someone they trust, a counsellor, or family member. Be prepared to make a tough call. If you are concerned that they are displaying serious risk to their personal safety, you may need to talk to someone, such as a health professional, without their consent. Remember that you are doing so because you care about them.
Offer to join them in an activity they normally enjoy: They need a chance to have some fun and clear their mind.
Let them know you care: They may try and put you off, but stay in touch, reach out, invite them to do things with you. Don't force or expect them to be cheerful, but stick with them. You might want to write them a letter or poem showing how special they are to you, and that no matter how tough things get, you will be there for them because that's what friendship is. If you can't physically be with your friend when in need, send them an email, chat online, send a text to show them that you are there for them (1).
Looking after yourself
Being a good friend is important, but before you can be a good friend to someone else, you have to make sure you look after your own wellbeing as well. Supporting a friend through tough times can place pressure on you, and it may be helpful to talk with someone about it. Whether this be other friends, family, teacher, collegue, or councellor.
1. Reachout Australia (2012)