The Lowdown
30 June 2022 • 6 min read

Supporting a Friend

Does a friend seem really down lately? Is someone you care about struggling, and you’re unsure how to help? It can be hard to know what to do when a friend is going through a tough time. They might be having troubles at school, facing whānau issues, going through a breakup or struggling with something else completely.

Two friends are hugging in the palms of hands. Over them is a yellow Pacific-patterned umbrella, which is sheltering them from rain with negative words inside.

You probably want to give them as much support as possible, but you may not know what to say or how to help. Even when you’re trying to be supportive, it can feel like you’re getting it all wrong.

It’s important not to judge yourself for being a bit unsure of what to say in these moments. You don’t need to be a doctor or a trained counsellor to support a friend – most of the time, they just need you to show up for them and encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling.

Some simple ways to support a friend who’s struggling include:

  • Ask if they’re ok - Starting a conversation can feel awkward, but it’s easier than you think. Stick to the facts. Don’t judge and try not to make assumptions.
  • Listen to them - Relax, you’re not expected to come up with an instant solution. Just really listen to what they have to say. Even if you don’t understand what they’re going through, accept that it’s very real to them. Just let them know you’re there for them and you’re happy to listen.
  • Ask them if they need anything from you – When they’ve finished telling you about what’s going on, try asking how you can help. If they don’t know, try asking “Do you need a hug, do you need me to help you find a solution or do you need to just chill out together and forget about it for a while?”
  • Check in to see if they want to do anything with you - You could do something active, go get food, play video games or go and sit at the beach. Remember it’s also okay to do nothing- chilling out with no expectations is all good.
  • Don’t make it about you - It’s good to try to understand what your friend is going through, but it’s important to also understand that their experience is their own and right now they need to process it. Try to do your best not to butt in and take over their experiences with your own story.

If you’re concerned about a friend, one of the most important things you can do is encourage them to get professional mental health support. If you know they might be open to do this but might need some extra support, you may even be able to offer to accompany them as their support person, if you have capacity and you feel that your own safety won’t be at risk by doing so. Check out this link for free and affordable ways you and your friends can get in touch with a mental health professional.

Where to get help:

If you’re thinking about harming yourself or are having suicidal thoughts, call Lifeline on 0508 82 88 65 now to talk to someone who cares and can support you.

If you believe a friend may be thinking about harming themselves, call Lifeline if it's happening right now, or check out this page for support if they're safe right now and you need advice.

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