How to help a friend in need – 8 practical ways to be there when it counts

How to help a friend in need - 8 practical ways to be there when it counts

“How Can I Help?”

This is such a common question I see asked over and over in a number of groups I am part of usually there is one of a variety of questions like:

“My friend has just been diagnosed with cancer …”

“ My friend’s child is sick …”

“My friend is going through a really tough time …”

And so many more I am sure you can think of situations that you have been in and just wanted to help. Typically most of us want to not only help but in truth we want fix the situation. This is perfectly natural it is really hard to watch those near and dear to us hurting.

Over the last couple of years as I process through a breakdown into recovery and just living what is  the new normal I have given this “how can I help” question a lot of thought. Here is a pretty brutal reality, sometimes you can’t. Well, not in the way that you really want to help. We simply can’t fix things and make it all sunshine and roses again. But it isn’t all bad news there are lots of things you can do.

If your friend is sick, tells you that she isn’t coping, that perhaps she has a mental health issue, marriage problems, money, work, sick children, dying relative sadly the list is actually endless, you know you can’t fix it. There is nothing worse than loving someone, wanting to swoop in and fix it but knowing that you simply can’t. That in most cases really isn’t help, it is a bandaid and eventually it comes off and your friend will need to do it alone. So the best help of all is when you can come along side someone and be there as and when they need you, while providing them with some practical assistance to get through.  Sometimes the most important thing of all is to say I don’t know what you need, but I am here, I love you and you won’t do this alone. Because when you are going through a tough time it doesn’t matter what it is the very worst feeling of all is that you feel alone. Knowing that you have mates who have your back and will be there holding your hand or even holding you up when you can’t do it for yourself can make all the difference.

Now, I am a fixer, a doer so being the one in the position of needing the help was really, really hard. That might be the case for your friend too, so sometimes the practical help needs to come gently.

Here are some useful practical solutions for help if you still need to do more:

  • Organise a meal roster – you can do this through schools, a group of mates, church, family members. Never underestimate how much a meal can make a difference.  Here are a couple of websites to make the process a bit easier:
  • Organise a roster for picking up and delivering kids. This can take such a load off. Especially if one partner is needing to keep working and the other one is sick, with a sick child etc just knowing that someone else has the other kids covered is really helpful and also helps the kids in trying to keep things as normal as possible in their world that might have been turned upside down.
  • Maybe do an online shop for them. You would be surprised how hard it can be to thing about getting out to the shops when your mind is full of all the other things going on in your life. If you can include a few little treats.
  • Offer to pay for a cleaner if you can. Or maybe a group of you can get together and pay for a cleaner for a period of time that can make a big difference too.
  • Take your friend out! Honestly, this will be a big one. We all know that typically as women we will put our own oxygen mask on last, when in fact there is a very good reason in emergencies they tell you to put it on first. Do something that you know your friend loves, it might be a mani/pedi afternoon or a trip to the hairdresser or a cheap coffee on the beach. Whatever it is make it all about them.
  • Do something nice it might be some flowers to brighten the house, a new set of sheets if they are unwell and needs to spend time in bed – never underestimate how good nice sheets and a new doona cover can lift a mood. They don’t even need to be expensive because the flip side is when they are well it is possible they will want to toss them as they could be a reminder of that time.
  • Offer to come in and do a big spring clean for them, a toy sort or even a good room clean for kids rooms.
  • Organise a fundraiser if it is going to be an ongoing issue and perhaps the household income is going to be reduced. You can often do this with their children’s school or sporting club as well. Lots of people will want to help but won’t be close enough to do the practical things but can buy a raffle ticket or two.

Often when we are going through tough times it is really hard to ask for help.  Also don’t get annoyed if they say no. Pride is a big thing so make sure you listen to them and understand what they are saying. Often pride from the partner can be an issue too, especially when it comes to money. Sometimes as good friends it is important to look for the little changes that tell us things aren’t great and they need their oxygen mask.

My biggest tip of all is when you ask someone “how can I help” make sure you are ready to listen and really hear what they are saying to you. It can be very easy to head into that conversation with a pre-conceived notion of how you can help or your help comes with strings. When your friend is going through a tough time it isn’t about you it is all about them so your help needs to be actual help and not a hindrance.

Most of all make sure that they know that are loved and not alone and that honestly can be enough.

Cathy O’Brien (prefers Cat) is a writer, wife, mum and friend.  I am in recovery from a rather dramatic mental health breakdown in 2015 and in the process discovering a whole new world out there. I hate small talk and would rather have a long chat about how to solve the problems of the world or be the shoulder to cry on for one person in the room rather than talk about the weather with 50 people. I am an introvert at heart (but extrovert in public to cope with the crippling anxiety of people) and love nothing more than snuggling up under a blanket with a hot cup of tea and a good book or a knitting or crocheting project to give to someone. Once upon a time my favourite drink was a good drop of bubbly or a nice smooth rum but these days the liver says no, so it is tea all the way, preferably with something baked by me to go with it. I write about all sorts of things mostly my mental health at life through the haze. 

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