What do you do when someone you know behaves in an unusual manner and you suspect that this person is facing serious problems? Perhaps your friend who is normally chatty, active and cheerful suddenly becomes withdrawn, lethargic and quiet. You sense that something is not right but you just don’t know how to approach your friend with your gut feel.
Start a confidential chat
Find a quiet and pleasant place with minimal distraction to have a chat. Be mindful to respect a person’s privacy and do not insist on knowing what is ‘wrong’ with your friend. Talk like how you would normally talk to your friend but without giving advise and poking fun.
You may start by stating an observation you have of your friend.
Reduce defensiveness by sharing your own feelings and emotions and look for common ground.
Listen to understand
Effective communication begins with listening. Give your friend the opportunity to share without interrupting or prying too much. Show your concern but keep a calm and relaxed composure. Do not impose your values on others or assume you know their situation because we all see things through our own lenses. Good communication involves appropriate use of non-verbal cues such body language, keeping silence and responding appropriately. Seek to understand a person better by clarifying what you hear using Mirroring Technique. Use different types of questioning approaches appropriately to gather more information without being too intimidating.
Empathy is not just sympathizing and feeling sorry for another person, it is knowing how the other person is feeling. However, no matter how well meaning we may be, sometimes speaking to a friend who is hurting and in pain can be challenging. Sometimes, the wrong choice of words could be worst off for that friend.
Some things you may want to avoid saying.
Some things to avoid doing:
- Criticize, blame them for what has happened.
- Talking too much, too rapidly, too loudly.
- Show hostility, impatience and negative emotions toward them.
- Assume you know how they feel or their situation.
- Make sarcastic remarks or joke about their condition.
- Belittle or say thing that are condescending.
Often times, advise is not what the person needs. Just a little compassion from a caring person goes a long way in the healing process for a hurting sole.
Empathy can be shown through Reflective Listening.
Show respect and understanding for how they describe and interpret the situation and symptoms. Help your friend identify the emotions felt by labelling/naming the emotion e.g sad, angry, guilty…
Ask your friend, how can you be of help.
Learn about the problem
To really empathize with your friend, find out more about what the problem, disease or issue entails. If your friend is suffering from a mental health condition, find out more about each of these afflictions so as not to believe in the stigmas that is often associate with mental health issues. Speak up and support your friend if other people poke fun or pass derogatory remarks about your friend’s condition.
Ask them how they have been managing their concerns and problem. Cheer your friend on if they are taking positive steps to manage the problem. If they are lost about what they can do, you can try to suggest some self-help tips such as the following. But be mindful not to impose these suggestions.
- Breathing exercise to calm down emotions
- Progressive muscle relaxation to reduce tension and stress
- Regular exercise ( 30 minutes 3 times a week)
- Sufficient sleep (7 to 9 hours)
- Reduce caffeine (max 300mg a day)
- Engage in leisure or pleasurable activity
- Challenge negative and unhelpful thoughts
Discourage unhealthy coping strategies such as
- Smoking, drugs, cutting etc.
- Encourage your friend not to isolate himself/herself.
- Identify family, friends, classmate or colleagues who are trustworthy and who can provide positive support.
It may be good to suggest seeking professional help such as seeing a counsellor or therapist if your friend shows signs of self-harm or wanting to end his/her life. Here is where your friend can get help.
Never take even the slightest hint of suicide lightly. More about Suicide here
Self-care is most important. Do look after your own mental and emotional well-being even as you look after your friend. You can try to make an agreement with your friend such that both of you take care of yourselves as well as each other.