It sucks to watch a friend suffer.
You feel helpless and sad, and it’s hard to know what to do, even though you really want to help. Remember that as a friend, your job is to be there. That doesn’t mean you have to “fix” your friend’s problems—but it’s great if you can show that you care.
What can I do?
One of the most helpful things you can do is just show up for your friend. Make plans to hang out, and call them regularly to check in. People who are suffering often have a hard time reaching out for help. That’s why it’s important for you to reassure your friend that you’re really there for them.
It can be extremely comforting for your friend to feel like someone else understands what they’re going through. Ask them if they want to talk about it. Good listening means that you hear them out, don’t interrupt, and don’t judge.
Sometimes your friend might go through an experience that you aren’t familiar with. Learning more about that topic can help you to better understand what might be happening. It can also prepare you and help you to feel more comfortable talking about it. Kids Help Phone’s Info Booth is a great place to start because it has information on a lot of topics that you or your peers might experience.
Respect their pain
Try not to say things like “Cheer up,” or “Things aren’t so bad.” Those kinds of words minimize what your friend is going through. Even if you don’t really understand why they’re so upset, it’s important that you allow them to feel what they’re feeling without judging them.
Think back to a rough patch in your past. Is there anything in particular that helped you through it, or anything that you wish someone had done for you? You can really help your friend by drawing on your own experience.
There are a ton of different reasons why you might need to talk to friend about something that’s hard to talk about. For example, you might notice that a friend seems down a lot, isn’t eating well, or is in an abusive relationship. It’s a really good idea to talk to your friend if you’re worried. This lets your friend know that you care and that you’re there for them.
What do I say?
Approaching a friend about something sensitive can be really tough. That’s why it’s a good idea to plan ahead. Here are a few different approaches to hard conversations:
Let your friend know you’re concerned, but don’t tell them what they have to do. You could try saying, “I’ve noticed _____________________. Is there anything you want to talk about?”
If your friend doesn’t want to talk, you might suggest, “Would it be helpful for you to speak to someone else about what’s been happening?”
Let them know that you’ll be there for them if they change their mind.
Show your concern
Try saying, “You seem to have a lot on your mind. Is there anything you would like to talk about?”
Don’t tell your friend that they need to change their behaviour in some way. This only puts pressure on your friend. They will make a change when they are ready. Your job is just to be there and to let them know you care.
Telling your friend what you think about their situation by saying things like, “You need to stop that!” isn’t helpful. Try to listen and be as understanding as you can.
Wait until you are calm to approach your friend about a difficult issue
If you’re feeling emotional when you talk to your friend, you’re probably not thinking clearly. You might say something you don’t mean to say, or your message might come out the wrong way.
It is difficult to know what to say in the moment, so practise beforehand. Write out what you want to say, or send yourself a text. Review it a couple of times before you approach your friend. If it helps, role play in front of a mirror or with someone else. You can always role play with a Kids Help Phone counsellor if you like.