Watching one of your friends go through psychological distress can almost be as bad as the psychological distress itself. Any healthy person has some degree of empathy – the ability to feel what others are going through. So if you’re at least somewhat perceptive, you feel their pain just like it’s your own. This can be painful to watch, and it can get to the point where you just can’t bear it any longer. So how do you help them get through it? This can be a little trickier than you might think, but luckily we’ve created a guide that should help you give the best possible attention to your hurting friend, and hopefully help them through their difficult time.
1. Think About What Could Be Causing The Pain
The first step to helping a hurting friend is to think about what could be causing the pain. Sometimes this is obvious, but many times it’s much more hidden. People are very good at hiding their true emotions. It’s easy to assume that something seemingly obvious is bothering them, when it fact it’s the thing you least expected. So don’t jump to conclusions. Consider all of their strange behavior recently. Are there any clues as to what might be causing the pain? Have they made passing remarks about things that could be bothering them? Often, you have to really dig into your memory to get a good idea of what’s bothering them, because they may only have given you the smallest hints in the past.
2. Let Them Know You’re There
The obvious second step to helping a hurting friend is simply letting them know you’re there. Even if you’re 99.9% sure you know what’s causing the pain, don’t bring it up just yet. All you should do to begin with is let your friend know in a very casual, con-confrontational way that you’re there if they ever need to talk. It’s so much better if your friend actually comes to you with their issues, rather than you trying to get it out of them. After this step, they may very well open up to and tell you the truth about what’s been bothering them. Or they might give you a strange look… Either way, this is the first thing you want to do before going any further. Even if you don’t get an immediate answer, give them a few days to come out and discuss what’s been bothering them before going any further.
3. Hint At It Rather Than Actually Confronting Them
At this point, the hurting friend might still not have told you what’s been bothering them. Rather than actually directly confronting them, you can start dropping subtle hints. Bring up little things you might have noticed about their behavior which you thought were red flags that something was wrong. But again, don’t turn this into an interrogation. Instead of asking them to explain the reason they’ve been acting strangely, just bring up these changes you’ve noticed as a simple observation. Examples could include: “I noticed you haven’t been smiling much lately,” or “You haven’t been hanging out with the rest of our group much.” These observations don’t make the person feel forced to tell you what’s going on, but they do make that person realize that people are starting to notice their pain, and want to know how to help.
4. Be Yourself
The worst thing you can do when dealing with a hurting friend is appear fake. Just talk to them in the most down-to-earth, genuine way you can. Don’t change your personality to the point where you are saying things you wouldn’t normally say, because your friend will then stop seeing you as a friend, and as someone they can trust. People are most likely to open up to their friends, and you stop seeming like a friend when all of a sudden you start acting like a psychiatrist. Be calm, controlled, and relaxed. If all goes well, they will open up about what’s been causing them the pain.
5. Use Humor To Break The Ice
By now, your hurting friend will have hopefully opened up to you and revealed what’s been causing them pain. Now you really need to move away from the awkwardness and embarrassment that person might be feeling after revealing to you something that’s probably quite personal. It’s now your job to immediately break the ice. And the best way to break the ice is with humor. Even if you’re not a funny person, there is always a way you can at least try to make the person laugh. If you do this, the person will breathe a sigh of relief. And there is nothing too sad or distressing that can’t be solved with laughter. One of the best ways to get over tough times and periods of mental pain is being able to laugh at one’s self. Show them how to do this.
6. Do Something You Both Enjoy Together
After hearing from your friend about what’s troubling them, you might be shocked at the severity of the problem they’re dealing with. Once you’ve helped them laugh about their predicament, the next step you can think about taking is doing something that can help them get their minds off it. This isn’t a tactic to “run away” from the problem, or a way to repress the thing that’s bothering them. It’s just something to take some time to focus on something else for a while. This is best done early on, right after you find out what’s been troubling them. It allows you to get past that initial awkwardness and reaffirm the bonds of friendship that are so important.
7. Ask How You Can Help
Now that you’ve got past the initial steps of figuring out what’s been causing the trouble and earning the trust of the hurting friend, you can move on to actually helping. But you can’t just dive in and start helping wherever you see fit. First, you have to actually get their permission to help. And this is done by simply asking them if they need anything from you, or saying something like “Just let me know if you need anything.” It may very well be that they don’t need or want your help. And that’s okay. But just making yourself available and making it clear that you’re willing to help will make them feel so much less alone.
8. If Need Be, Leave Them Alone
Some people just want to be alone. If your hurting friend is a social introvert, that’s probably the case. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, you might be impeding their natural healing process if you’re constantly trying to spend time with them or asking them how you can help. Some people require solitude in a quiet room to sit and think in order to get over things that have been troubling them. This can last for days sometimes. And you have to respect that healing process. All you can do is reaffirm that you’re there to help if they ever need anything. Just being available to them will most likely put them at ease, even if they don’t want to be around you.
9. Determine If It’s Serious
This is perhaps one of the most important steps in helping a hurting friend. In order to help in the right way, you need to determine how serious the problem is. Is it just a bad break-up? Or is it something much more serious, such as suicidal thoughts? Whether it’s serious or manageable, the friend still deserves and needs help. With suicide especially, you need to step it up and contact health care professionals, suicide hotlines, or the authorities in order to stop the person from harming themselves. How do you actually determine how serious it is? This is actually a very hard thing to find out. Even if the person appears to be open about what’s troubling them, things can be a lot worse than they seem on the outside. On the other hand, someone who seems in extreme pain on the outside might actually have a lot of strength on the inside. In the end, the best thing you can do is trust your instincts and your intellect in figuring out exactly how serious it is.
10. Don’t Get Too Involved
Although helping a hurting friend is important, it’s also important not to sacrifice your own life in order to help them. At the end of the day, the only person capable of healing their mental pain is them. If you end up feeling like you’re fighting their battles for them, you may want to rethink your plan. It’s important to set boundaries. How much is too much for you when it comes to helping your friend? Do you want to be up all night talking to them on the phone? Do you want to spend all day trying to convince them that life is worth living? Probably not. If your own life begins to suffer, you’re not helping get rid of the pain – you’re actually helping it spread into the lives of multiple people.
11. Address Unresolved Grief
Sometimes the most intense pain can be caused by grief. It could be that your hurting friend has just lost a loved one who was very close to them. Even if you know them well, you might have no idea that someone close to them has actually passed away. This might be because the person does not want to tell anyone, instead keeping it all bottled up inside. This isn’t healthy for anyone, and will only cause more pain and grief. You can play an active role in helping them confront the pain of their loss head on, instead of shying away from it. Although it may cause some emotional distress and even tears, bringing up their loss will enable them to get all of that pain off their chest, and hopefully help them move on with their lives.
12. Recommend They Get Help
At the end of the day, the best way to help a hurting friend is to refer them to someone who does it for a living. This might be a therapist, counselor, psychiatrist, or another healthcare professional. It might be tempting to take it all upon yourself to heal your hurting friend, but there is only so much you can do. If you’re not trained in this area, you don’t stand the best chance of actually helping. When it comes to suggesting the idea of seeing someone, you shouldn’t try to force them into seeing a professional, just bring up the idea of getting help from someone who is trained. Tell them that seeing someone could make them feel better, and help take the pain away. If they’re uncomfortable or nervous about going through with it, you could offer to go with them to their appointment so they’re not alone.
13. Always Be A Source Of Brightness
One thing to remember when helping a hurting friend is to always remain a source of brightness and happiness. Don’t ever let the hurting friend get you down. This is for two reasons. Depression and pain has a funny way of becoming contagious, and although it’s sometimes hard, you have to keep your mood way up in order to drown out their pain. Don’t fake the happiness though, and obviously don’t be happy when they tell you all their problems. As well as showing happiness and positivism, always be optimistic about their struggle. Tell them that you think they’re going to get past this pain they’re feeling one day. Constantly be that person who shows faith in their friends, and have total faith in the fact that your hurting friend will one today get back to their normal selves. Your friend will pick up this and hopefully start believing in themselves.
14. Encourage Them To Be Active
Sometimes the best way to help get rid of mental pain and anguish is to do something active. Being active has been shown time and time again by multiple studies to do wonders for one’s mood. That’s because when we exercise, endorphins are released that have a direct effect on our brains. So that being said, why not encourage your hurting friend to do something fun and active? You may just see some stunning results after you’re finished. This might also help the friend get their mind over whatever’s troubling them. Try to do something that you’re both familiar with and enjoy, such as a favorite sport. There have been so many studies in the past that show a link between exercise and healing even the worst cases of depression. Exercise is such a powerful aid that it’s benefits are on par with actual therapy.
15. Keep Them Away From Toxic People
Although you might be committed to having a positive effect on your friend, others might be having a negative effect. These toxic individuals may or may not be aware of what they’re doing to your hurting friend. It may be that they’re making the pain worse, but it may also be that that toxic person is the actual cause of their pain to begin with. It could be that this person is a romantic partner that’s treating them badly or simply a friend in your group who’s overly cynical. In any case, you can play an active role in identifying that person’s negative impact, and communicating your concerns to your hurting friend. At this point, they may or may not take your advice to stay away from that person. It’s up to them. But talking with them about it does help, because your friend might not realize the negative effects that person is having on their lives and their ability to heal from the pain they’re experiencing.
16. Talk About What Their Idols Would Do
Sometimes the best way to help a hurting friend is to talk about their idols. Figure out who their favorite athletes, musicians, or politicians are. Just about everyone who is famous has gone through some hard times. Remind your friend of that. Would they let something like this get them down? How did they deal with their hardship? These are all things you can bring up in order to inspire your friend to take an active role in healing the pain and mental anguish they might be going through. You can’t make them forget about whatever’s troubling them, but you can foster strength in them to carry on, no matter what the odds.
17. Release Some Adrenaline
Sometimes the best way to shake yourself out of a rut is to put yourself through a really shocking physical activity. Examples would be skydiving, bungee jumping, or anything else that basically makes you feel like you’re about to die. The reason for this is because these activities release tons of adrenaline. This can be a huge boost to one’s mood, and it can provide the strength needed to carry on. In addition, it creates somewhat of a near-death experience. When people flirt with death so to speak, they often gain a new appreciation for life afterwards. This can give people a totally new perspective on life, and you might find that they’re now able to handle whatever’s troubling them.
18. Don’t Try To Relate
One thing you should try to avoid when helping a hurting friend is trying too hard to relate to them. People going through a lot of mental pain don’t want to hear about other people’s problems, and frankly they don’t really care if you might have gone through something similar. And to them, nothing really compares to what they’re going through anyway. It’s a common mistake that a lot of people make when helping a hurting friend. Although their intention is to make people feel less alone, which makes sense, it actually does the opposite. Even though you might have gone through something similar, their personality is different from your’s, so their experience was different. A better decision would be to devote that energy towards actually helping them, by lifting their mood or taking their mind off it, rather than telling them stories about things that are equally depressing.
Meditation can be a huge boost for people trying to heal from psychological depression. Sometimes, people hurt because their minds just can’t stop racing, replaying the same events or thoughts over and over again in their mind. And one of the best ways to really slow down the mind and calm down is through meditation. There have been a wide range of studies that show the link between meditation and healing psychological issues like depression. It really works. The only problem is that people are sometimes reluctant to try to it. That’s where you come in. Encourage them to join you in a meditation session held at a community center or other establishment. Meditation classes for new people are usually free. Be persistent. Ask them to at least give it a chance, to see if it will help.
20. Talk About Good Old Memories
Another great way to take their mind off what’s troubling them is to talk about some nice, old memories that you two might share. This might also succeed in making them crack a smile or maybe even laugh. This tactic works best when the two of your share a long past, such as that of childhood friends. Sometimes, there’s nothing like a bit of cozy nostalgia to help heal psychological pain. Thinking back to better, simpler times may be a temporary escape, but anything that brings a little bit or relief to someone going through a lot of pain is a welcome change. You might also consider bringing up a memory where the two of you overcome an obstacle or hardship. This could inspire the hurting friend to draw upon the same strength that they used to heal and be strong in the past.
21. Just Listen
When dealing with a hurting friend, many people make the mistake of thinking they need to be constantly talk to that person; asking questions, telling them everything is going to be okay, and other things of that nature. But what these people fail to realize is that the best thing you can do is just listen. They will tell you what they want you to hear, and most of the time being able to get things off their chests is something that really helps them move past the pain. But they won’t be able to speak if you don’t give them a chance. Don’t be too hasty to break a long silence. They might be thinking about ways to explain what they’re going through, or plucking up the courage to confess what’s been bothering them this whole time.
22. If Need Be, Talk To Their Family
At this point, you’ve had lots of time to assess what exactly they’ve been going through, how serious the situation is, and whether or not what you’re doing is actually helping. Once you’ve determined all of this, it might be a good idea to talk to their immediate family. This is especially true if they live with these family members, because they’re probably going to spending more time with their family than you. In this case, the family members are better suited to keep an eye on them. But even if the hurting friend doesn’t live with their family, telling them that something is wrong might also be a good idea because they’re in a better position to get that person help. People sometimes take the advice of family members more seriously than that of their friends. This is essential if you think that the hurting friend is contemplating suicide, as they will need professional help as soon as possible. Suicidal people also need to be watched constantly, and never left alone. On the other hand, if you think the pain is manageable, don’t tell the family, as they probably want to deal with it themselves, and they might even become embarrassed or lose trust in you after their issues are spread around.
23. Surprise Them
Sometimes a happy surprise can really lift a hurting friend’s mood. It can help that person realize that there’s still wonder left in the world, and that there are better things to look forward to. Maybe you could get tickets to a sporting event and surprise your friend? Or bring them their favorite food? If you really put your mind to it, and think about what your friend would like more than anything, you can surprise them with something that will really bring joy to their life. Don’t be discouraged if they still seem saddened, as it may take a little more than just a pleasant surprise to stop them from hurting. But the main thing is that they’re reminded that people still care about them, and that life is full of surprises!
24. Sometimes They Need A Rude Awakening
Sometimes, hurting friends need someone to actually shake them out of their rut. It’s always good to follow your instincts and emotions, and if you feel like you have to really confront your friend about their pain, this might be the right choice. This is especially true if your friend has been evasive and refuses to admit something’s bothering them when it quite clearly is. At this point you might feel frustrated at them for not being honest. And if that frustration leads you to blow up at your friend, sometimes that’s exactly what they need. It’s like a slap to the face that wakes them up from their mental anguish. Tell them that you miss their normal selves, and that they need to get it together and pull themselves out of their depression. There are all kinds of issues that your friend might want to hide, and these often can get repressed and bottled up. Sometimes direct confrontation is the only way to bring these issues to light. However, you have to assess whether or not your friend is too fragile for this, because it can have a negative effect when it’s not done at the right time or with the right person. That’s why you should wait until all other options are exhausted before trying this.
25. Suggest Changes To Their Diet
Sometimes the answer is a lot simpler than you think when it comes to dealing with a hurting friend. The source for their mental pain might be a result of a poor or unsuitable diet. For example, one of the key parts of keeping moods high is vitamin D. This can be absorbed through sunlight, but can also be taken as a vitamin supplement. Other examples include vitamin b12, which is linked to energy levels and mood, and omega-3, which is linked to overall brain health. This is even more relevant when you consider that a lot of the time, people can’t even explain why they feel so low and in pain. They just feel a total drop in mood for no reason. Although they might not realize it, this could very well be a result of a poor diet. Bring this up to them, this might just be the missing link when it comes to the cause of their pain.