Everyone goes through tough times for all sorts of reasons – whether that’s during the stress of finals, at the end of a relationship, or after losing a loved one. Eventually, with the help of those around us, we get through them and make it out the other side. When we look back we always remember who was there for us the most.
But when it’s your friend that’s experiencing tough times or having problems with their mental health, you might not know the best way to check up on them. Knowing when to be there for them and when to give them space can be difficult. We’re here to ease the burden and let you know some of the best ways to check up on your friend – and how best to help them.
Start by reaching out
Reaching out to your friend is the first step, but remember not to go overboard. An instant message will probably be better received than a call. Calling someone can put them in a position where they may feel like they have to answer or they’ll let you down. An instant message on the other hand gives them all the power and lets them choose when they want to reply.
But why send a text when you can TouchNote it. A physical postcard does everything a text can, but it also gives your friend something they can hold on to forever. A text can be easily forgotten, but a postcard will remain as a memento and reminder of your friendship.
A simple ‘Hey’ or ‘What’s on your mind’ is a great ice breaker and doesn’t put too much pressure on them to immediately explain why they’re feeling down. Just let them know that you’re available and the ball’s in their court if they need someone to talk to. After a postcard, let your friend reach out to you in their own time.
Validate their feelings
Once your friend has reached out to you, try to not immediately offer solutions to their problems. They likely don’t want or need any and it’s far better to validate their feelings. Show support, agree that their feelings are completely normal, and let them know you really do get where they’re coming from.
When they tell you why they’re feeling down, instead of repeating ‘yeah’, ‘uh huh’, or ‘okay’, give your friend some indication that you actually understand them. Tell them why their feelings may be quite common. If you’ve felt the same at some point in time, let them know so they don’t have to feel so alone.
Be an active listener
While your friend explains their feelings to you, listen to them, take in what they’re saying, and be there for them – just don’t play the therapist. You’re probably not qualified and could end up doing more harm than good.
But don’t worry – you don’t need to be a therapist to help. Keep a healthy amount of eye contact, don’t judge, criticize or interrupt, and try not to start planning what you’ll say when they’ve finished speaking. Make sure to ask your friend questions – don’t assume you know what they mean. Ask them to help clarify what they’ve said, but be sure to wait until there’s a pause in the conversation.
Plan an in-person catch-up
An in-person catch-up can be a nice way to let your friend know how much you care about them. You could go to their house, invite them over to yours, or even go to the pub for a quiet drink. The key here is that the invitation should have no expectations.
Your friend may not be in a place where they are ready to go out and socialize, and you don’t want to make them feel guilty about not accepting (which could lead them into a spiral of guilt). Even when you know they probably won’t turn up, continue to invite them and let them know the option is always there. Remind them that you’ll be happy to see them whenever they are ready.
Send a playlist
There’s evidence to suggest that humanity sang before we spoke the first word. Music connects everyone. It is innately human and can even be used to treat mental health disorders like depression.
Without getting too far into the scientific side of things, an easy way to be there for your friend is to send over a playlist of songs that remind you of them. You can include a song the two of you used to belt out at sleepovers or that obscure one you bonded over that no one else had heard of. Make it personal, and show them how much they mean to you by sending a message along with the playlist.
You can’t help your friend on your own, nor should you. Therapy exists for a reason, and there are plenty of resources out there that can help. But it can be a bit daunting and your friend might be easily overwhelmed by the prospect. If they are open to seeking therapy, then help them out by researching potential routes. You could go through different therapists together and find the one that’s best suited to help, or you could help them make a list of things they want to say. Encourage them to book that first appointment, but don’t push them.
Alongside this, find some support groups that your friend would benefit from – It can be helpful to talk to people going through the same things they are. But most importantly, remember to stay in touch. Your friend will want to withdraw so you may need to put a bit more effort in. Once they come out the other end, they’ll appreciate everything you did for them even if they can’t express that yet.
Even a small gesture, like a text, a phone call, or a postcard will help remind them that there are people that care about them. It could make all the difference in the world.