January 26th, 2021

How to be there

By Dan Whale

  • Depression
  • Grief and Bereavement

At any moment in time, someone close to us may need us. They may need us in a way that they never have before. In fact, they may need us like no one ever has before.

Sadly, tragedy is a part of life. It can affect anyone in a sudden moment and when it does, they need the support of those they love. The difficulty is, if we haven’t shared their experience, we might have no idea of how to help. This can lead us to feeling useless, overwhelmed or perhaps even frightened to talk to the person we want to support - afraid that we’re going to say the wrong thing and just make things worse.

There are no easy answers to this stuff. We’re all different and different situations may require different approaches. That being said, there are certain general things we can do to make sure we’re there for a loved one in need.

It’s much more simple than you might think.

You really don’t need to say much at all

Don’t worry about not having good advice to give. When a person is in a difficult place, often what they most need is just someone to listen. They’re not expecting you to have all the answers, and trying to claim that you know what they’re going through or offering cliches like ‘everything happens for a reason’ is probably going to be more unhelpful than helpful.

If you don’t know what to say, just help them talk. Let them know that their feelings are justified and encourage them to express how they feel. Enabling them to think out loud and have a sounding board is hugely helpful.

Certain people find talking about this kind of thing very difficult and if that’s the case, you don’t need to force it out of them. Just being present with them can still provide a lot of comfort.

Ask them how you can help

Even when someone is in distress, they often don’t want to be a burden. However, if they’re going through a really difficult period, they’re likely to forget about day-to-day things like going to the supermarket or eating regularly - or they may just not feel up to it.

This is where you can come in. Help take care of the boring life admin so it’s one less thing on their mind. This can also help build much needed routine. A regular meal together or even phone call helps to bring back a sense of normality.

It’s these small gestures that get people through tough times and give them the strength to keep going.

Make time for them, whether they request it or not

If a loved one is really struggling with something, they may be a lot slower to reply to messages and less likely to organise plans. This makes it easy to think that they just need a bit of time to themselves.

In reality, they might be feeling like they’re just going to bring you down and be poor company. Keep visiting or reaching out for a chat - it will probably mean a lot more to them than you think.

Don’t be afraid to make them laugh

Whilst someone may be dealing with a very serious issue, that doesn’t mean that they expect or want you to be completely serious with them. Be your normal self. If that includes telling a story about how you fell in a puddle earlier, do it.

It’s helpful for people to know that usual life is still going on around them. The silly little aspects of your life can be comforting and provide a break, no matter how small, from the distress a person can be feeling.

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So as has probably been made clear, the secret on how to best ‘be there’ for someone when they’re going through a difficult time? Just be there. Don’t overthink it, don’t try to ‘fix’ the issue. Giving them support or just being there whilst they talk through their emotions is the most valuable thing you can do.

smiling woman in front of a blue wall

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