How To: Support Someone Who is Sad

If I had to describe myself in one word it absolutely wouldn’t be ‘sad’. ‘Sad’ wouldn’t even come into my top 100 words to describe the complex entity that is me.*

*Yes, I now refer to myself as a complex entity because I found out my Enneagram and am now a spiritual, self-aware goddess.

But, lo and behold, I feel sad sometimes. In fact, I’ve had periods of my life where I’ve felt sad for quite a long time. And all this sadness has given my friends a lot of chances to be The Friend of Someone Who is Sad. And sometimes they play that part well, but sometimes they fall short. This is in no way me complaining about my wonderful friends, as I know it can be tricky to know how to support someone going through a shit situation. I’ve absolutely been in that situation too. And that brings me to why I’m writing this today! Most people find it difficult to express in what way they need help, especially when they’re feeling hopeless. This leaves that burden with you, the friend, and it can sometimes feel impossible, especially if you have no way of actually solving the root of their sadness.

But there are definitely a few things you can do to make your friend feel that little bit more supported.

Disclaimer: I’m not coming from a place of depression, I’m coming from the perspective of someone who had something really bad going on (my mum’s cancer diagnosis) and was reacting to it. Depression is slightly different and less simple. Because of that, some of these tips might not be as relevant when supporting a friend throughout their mental health problems. That doesn’t mean they’re all pointless but just bear that in mind.

Tippy tips:

1. Think about what sort of person they are.

Needless to say, this is really useful when knowing how to deal with them. If they’re unaffectionate, perhaps don’t rely on hugs and kisses to get them by. If they’re super affectionate, they’re probably not going to feel the benefit of just a text, and will need more traditional comfort. I find the ‘Love Languages’ system super useful, in case that’s what floats your boat. The most important thing to remember is this isn’t about you. You might have to get over your own discomfort to give them what they need. If the way in which they feel supported is through words, get your thesaurus out and start writing those poems. I’m obviously joking (just give me a solo show already SNL) but in essence, that’s all true. It might not feel natural for you to do or say a certain thing but it might be just what they need.

2. Don’t avoid the subject.

If you’re having trouble bringing it up, imagine what they must be feeling, the person who’s actually going through it? Avoiding talking about it makes it seem bigger than it is. I had a couple of friends who just completely avoided broaching the subject of my mum’s cancer and all it did was make me feel super insecure. I started wondering if maybe I should just be keeping it to myself. Some ways to approach it if you’re really stuck:

“I don’t know what to say but I’m here for you.”

Ask questions. They’re unlikely to be offended and it clears the air a bit.

“How are you? How is your mum/dog/tortoise/sense of self worth?”

3. Carry on like normal…ish.

Unless they tell you to leave them alone, treat them like mostly normal. Invite them to grab coffee, ask if they’re still going to Zumba, do whatever it is you guys normally do.*

*I don’t want to know the details…

The worst thing you can do is just assume they want to be alone. Isolation is not good, unless they genuinely need some space. As always, bring it back to what sort of person they are. Use your own common sense to predict what they want/need.

4. Don’t think sharing your own problems with them is going to ‘balance it out’.

Of course, they’re still your friend, and are probably capable of supporting you too but just think about it first. If it’s clearly of less magnitude, leave it. Responding to them with details of how you lost your favourite eyelash is probably not cool. Detracting from their problems makes them feel not heard and (from my perspective) guilty for feeling so overwhelmed by their own problems. If you genuinely need to share something that’s going on in your own life, try and ensure they feel heard and supported before you change the subject.

5. Most problems of this sort don’t just go away in a week.

That means your support can’t have an expiration date either. Yes, initially your friend might need more support while it’s all fresh but it’s good to bear in mind that they may need a little bit of help later on too. This doesn’t mean phoning them up every day or continuing to ask if they’re okay (this can get annoying) but it can be helpful to just ask them about the situation every so often. I find this really helpful to remind me that my friends are still looking out for me, even though the storm seems to have blown over.

I hope some of these are useful! A little point to anyone going through a hard time: If you can, try and tell your friends how you want to be supported. It’s not needy or selfish, it will genuinely help both you and your friends.

hey! i'm an 21 year old medical student (currently intercalating in anthropology) living it up in east london! i spend my spare time playing dixie chicks on guitar (badly), attempting to do yoga and turning it up at my church.

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