Author: Stéphanie Deslauriers, psychoeducator
Sometimes, even if life is great for you, someone close to you may be going through a tough time. When things aren’t going well for a friend, parent or another person you care about, you may feel powerless, guilty or puzzled.
This difficult period may become drawn out and the distress may become so great that it impacts the different areas of this person’s life (school, work, family, friends, romantic relationships, extracurricular activities).
As someone close to this person, you might want to help them feel better. This shows your sensitivity, empathy and compassion, which are all excellent qualities.
How can you support them effectively while not forgetting to take care of yourself in the meantime? This text will help you by giving you advice on how to find your way in this type of sensitive situation.
How far can you go in helping someone close to you who is going through a difficult time?
It is important to show self-compassion, i.e., to know your own boundaries. The goal of helping is not to bear the other person’s pain for them or to feel exactly the same distress as the person you care about. Instead, the goal is to let the person who’s in distress know that they are not alone, that you are there for them and that they can confide in you.
Simply take the time to ask yourself these questions:
- Do I feel able today to listen to the difficult words that the other person expresses?
- Do I feel emotionally available to take in the distress of the person I care about who is not doing well?
Your answer might be “no”. And that’s okay! It doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad friend. It makes you someone who has self-respect and who sets boundaries for self-protection and self-preservation.
Here are a few examples of how to express this:
- “You know, today I don’t feel strong enough to discuss your situation. But if you feel like doing an activity to take your mind off things, I’d be happy to join you.”
- “I need to take MY mind off things today and be alone. Could we talk about it another time?”
When things aren’t going well for a parent
If one of your parents is going through a difficult time, it’s normal for your life to be impacted. Of course, we’d all prefer our parents to be mentally fit and doing well. You might feel the need to help your parent who is tired or experiencing difficulties. Even if your intentions are good, remember that you are not an adult and you don’t have to take on such responsibilities.
- Remember that it’s important that you do not become your parent’s main confidant, even though you might find that gratifying.
- Your parent should be able to discuss it with their spouse, a trusted friend or a mental health specialist.
- Once again, the watchword is self-preservation. Know your boundaries. Take care of yourself and YOUR mental health.
Winning attitudes to adopt
Regardless of who is experiencing distress in your circle, you don’t have to find THE perfect words to make the person happy again, simply because these perfect words don’t exist. In fact, just being listened to, understood, accepted and not judged is what really helps those we care about. For example, some actions that are truly comforting are:
- Offering a hug
- Placing your hand on the person’s shoulder
- Making eye contact
What to do if the person tells you something concerning?
N.B.: if your friend or parent tells you about their distress and asks you not to talk about it, don’t keep it to yourself; instead, get help. You aren’t betraying someone you care about by asking for help, because these are situations that are very difficult to deal with and require the assistance of a health professional.
Don’t hesitate to refer the troubled person to specialized mental health resources, such as:
- Professionals at school (psychoeducators, social workers, psychologists, special education teachers)
- The local CLSC
- Helplines such as Tel-Jeunes
And if you’re concerned about the safety or life of this person, the SOS Suicide line is available 24/7. Don’t keep it to yourself if a person makes suicidal statements; quickly inform a health professional, your friend’s parents, or in the event of an emergency, call 911.The 13 symptoms of depression