Ways to Help a Friend in Need
Whether you have a friend who’s going through a difficult situation, struggling with mental health—like stress, anxiety, or depression—or just needs someone to talk to, it’s natural to want to support and help them. But it’s not always easy to know how. What can you say about it while still respecting their boundaries? Is it okay to just be there for them and not say anything at all? Is there someone that you or they can talk to?
First, know that even wanting to be there for your friend means you’re already a great friend. And while you help them, remember that it’s really important to take care of yourself too.
Here are a few other tips that can help:
Right now, your friend probably needs your time and company—even if they can’t find the right words. Your actions speak loudly. And having someone there who they can trust and who listens without judgement might be just what they need.
So, let them lead the conversation. Ask questions and really listen. If you have advice, ask if you can offer a suggestion before launching in.
Trust Your Gut
When it comes to doing something helpful for them, trust your instincts. Sometimes, asking how you can help puts the work on your friend—who’s probably already overwhelmed.
Maybe you can think about times you’ve been in need—what did your friends do? What did you find the most helpful?
Still not sure? Try one (or some) of these:
- Bring them a nourishing lunch or snack
- Write them a hand-written letter that lets them know how important they are
- Help them clean or re-organize their room
- Pick some fresh flowers
- Donate to a charity in their honor
- Take them to their favorite place in town and just spend some one-on-one time with them
- Make them laugh
- Get them a journal they can use to help process their feelings
No matter how big or small the gesture is, what matters is that you’ve taken the initiative to alleviate some pressure from your friend’s life.
Don’t Give Up
Now might not be the right time for them to accept your help, but that doesn’t mean it won’t ever be—so keep checking in. It’s important to respect their space and needs, but it’s okay to let them know you’re always there when they do need you.
It’s also good to remember to be forgiving. Try not to let their refusal upset you. And if you know their true nature is usually kind or understanding, keep in mind that some people lash out on their loved ones when they feel stressed or overwhelmed. It’s good to be prepared for this just in case and try to be understanding. However, if this dynamic affects your well-being, it’s okay to step back and focus on taking care of yourself for a little while.
Point Towards the Future
Depending on the situation, it can be hard for your friend to imagine a time when they won’t feel like they currently do. When or if you feel like they’re ready, try being positive about the future or focusing on specific happy moments that are in front of you.
If they shut down, then table it and try again another time.
Encourage Support Services
If you believe that your friend is even thinking about something like harming themselves (including suicide) or harming others, tell an adult immediately. It may not be easy—but you could save lives.
If you feel like your friend would benefit from talking to someone in general, there are organizations and support groups that can help. Here are just a few:
- Teen Link
An anonymous and free help line answered by teens from 6-10 p.m., all year long. You can talk to them about whatever is on your mind and they can be a great resource for your friend too. Call 1-866-TEENLINK.
- The Washington Recovery Help Line
An anonymous, confidential 24-hour help line for those experiencing substance use disorder, problem gambling, and/or a mental health challenge.
- The Crisis Clinic
A 24-hour crisis line. Call to talk about anything, including suicide—1-866-4CRISIS.
- Crisis Chat
The Lifeline Crisis Chat is available within the United States and territories from 2 p.m.-2 a.m. EST, seven days a week.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
A 24/7 lifeline—call 1-800-273-TALK or chat.
- The Trevor Project Lifeline
The only nationwide, around-the-clock suicide prevention and crisis intervention lifeline for LGBTQ youth. Talk to someone at 1-866-488-7386—it’s free and confidential.
Take Care of You
Being a supportive friend to someone going through a hard time can be a big responsibility to take on. That’s why it’s important to look after yourself too. Doing things like watching your own mood and stress levels and taking time to relax will make you happier—and in turn, make you a better line of support for your friend.
So, don’t give up the things you enjoy and ask for support when you need it too (including the chat lines above).