Back in January, on a long trip from Chicago to Duluth, a good friend of mine and I talked extensively about our lives. It was good to catch up, the conversation flowed, and we bonded over heartaches and life stuff. It was back when my therapist and I were looking at diagnoses, and specifically the criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Talking about that with this specific friend was really beneficial and validating. They are diagnosed with BPD (and I am unofficially?? We haven’t talked about diagnoses in awhile). Ultimately, this shared experience has led to why our friendship works so well, and how we help each other. So, without further adieu, here are three ways you can help your own friends through a crisis, regardless if they have a mental illness or not!
- Comfort – This can be provided simply by actively listening to your friend. VALIDATE them. Make sure they know that their feelings are valid and that what they are going through is tough. If you are in close proximity to your friend, you can offer physical forms of comfort such as hugs, back-rubbing, and providing them with food, drink, blankets, etc. If you are not or unable to come over, being there for them over the phone, skype, or texting is comforting and helpful for most.
- Distract – This can be anything from sending them memes to building a pillow fort with them. Inviting them over, or offering to come over! Suggesting healthy distractions like coloring, or reading. Talk about something that you know they are looking forward to. Suggest new music for them to listen to. Build your own adventure with this, tailor it to what you know of them!
- Resolve – Sometimes the stress of not knowing what to do can cause distress, and problem-solving with your friend is the best option to alleviate that source. This is one of the most involved ways you can help your friend, because you might need several details or to conduct your own research to help them figure out a solution to their problem. If you know that your friend could use a solution, but is not currently asking for one, offer your help in that department. They might not have thought to ask you, or they may already have a solution in mind. Sometimes in the heat of the moment, it is hard to come up with possible options.
Ask them what they need in that moment. These can be used in combination, or in succession. And just because one helped your friend last time doesn’t mean that it is what they want from you this time. No one person handles situations the same or finds the same coping mechanisms to be helpful. For example, resolve can be one that some people don’t ask for unless they have received one of the other two first. However, there are some who like this as a first option, because something specific needs to change and they will find comfort in figuring out how that is going to happen.
Whatever you do make sure you allow them agency over what happens. Do not take matters into your own hands, unless they ask you to. Without permission this can damage your friendship and make it more difficult for them to trust you in the future. Unless you are a professional who is working directly with them, you do not know what is best for them and only they can tell you that in that moment.
These aren’t the only ways to help someone through a tough time, nor are they guaranteed. But I am speaking from experience that sometimes even getting asked what someone can do for me is assuring and validating. Best of luck out there, space cadets!
Note: This is not directed towards emergency situations. However, this can be beneficial to diffuse situations before they escalate to be an emergency. If you notice that your friend is having a tough time, acknowledging it and offering help is the best thing you can do for them.