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Fact Sheet

Listening to a friend who needs you

Photo by: klairelee

Friends are often the first people that we turn to when we’re feeling sad or have something on our minds. You can also help a friend who’s having a tough time by offering support and an open ear. Below are some suggestions to help you become a good support for your friend.

Listen. By giving your friend the chance to talk about how he or she is feeling, you may be helping him or her manage important feelings. If you’ve had a similar experience as your friend, it might be tempting to tell your story. But this might not be a good time to do that; it may be better to save it for another time.

Avoid giving advice. Try to remember that everyone is different and what worked for you in a similar situation might not work for your friend. If you feel that it’s appropriate to talk about your experience and give advice, it’s a good idea to remind your friend that what you’re saying is just your opinion and that it’s O.K. if you don’t agree with each other.

Let your friend know that you’re listening. This might reassure your friend and let him or her know that you care. You can show that you’re listening in a number of ways. Here are a few examples:

  • Ask questions to get a better understanding of what your friend has been talking about;
  • Say what you think, feel or sense about what your friend has said;
  • Repeating back in your own words what they have been saying.

Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions allow people to talk more openly with you. They often start with “how” or “what,” and prompt people to respond without using just “yes” or “no” answers. For example, you might want to ask questions like How do you feel about .. or Can you tell me more about….

Be aware of your body language. Open body language can make a person feel more comfortable about speaking to you. Try not to look over his or her shoulder, at your watch, or at anything else around you. Try not to cross your arms, because this can make you seem closed-off. It might also be helpful for you to consider your friend’s cultural background, because this can change what’s considered warm and friendly body language.

Be open-minded and don’t judge. Even though it might be tough, try to be as supportive as possible. You might be able to help him or her find a solution to the problem by openly discussing many different options to tackle the problem.

Validate your friend’s feelings. Reassure your friend that it’s O.K. to feel how they’re feeling.

Find help. Your friend might find it helpful to talk with someone like a counselor, psychologist or doctor. You may be able to help them find someone. If you feel comfortable, you could even offer to go to with your friend to his or her first appointment. They don’t have to go alone. Check out the Get Help section for more details on people who can help your friend.

Remember to take care of yourself. Helping a friend through a tough situation can be stressful. It’s important that you take care of yourself so that you can continue to help your friend. If you need to, make sure you can talk to someone you trust about how you feel and the concerns you have for your friend. Remember it’s important to keep what your friend has shared with you private by not connecting names and stories, unless you are worried that they are in danger of hurting themselves or another person.

Take action if your friend is in crisis. If you think your friend is in crisis, for example, threatening to end their life or hurt themselves - you need to take action and get help immediately. Call 911 and stay with your friend until help arrives. If you are worried but unsure that they are in immediate danger, you may want to call the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000 to get answers to your questions and concerns.

Last reviewed: May 29, 2009

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  • avatar2

    Reply - Quote


    Hello, I’m very worried about my friend. I don’t know him in real life but we’ve been really close talking every day over phone and messages for more than half a year.

    I didn’t notice instantly but eventhough he usually doesn’t show it, he’s almost always unhappy, whenever he’s not disctracted. He’s failing school and sees himself as a bother to everyone. As someone useless. He’s very easy to anger, and pushes people away. He thinks everyone hates him, even his family. He goes from being really angry with me saying things like that he hates me. To then saying I’m better off without him and that he’s a terrible person. He hates the world and at the same time he doesn’t feel like he fits in and like he isn’t accepted.

    He thinks that his family is better off without him and he has been talking about killing himlself and taking ppl down with him, I’m not sure how serious he is, but I’m sure that he’s not happy. He has people that he spends time with but he doesn’t see them as “real” friends. He’s drinking a lot.. and would drink more if he had the money.

    I mentioned getting help by therapy just recently.. and he replied that he would never talk to me about his problems again ever. And now he’s acting like everything is good.

    Please! I don’t know what to do! I know he’d be furious and he.. might never talk to me again if I try to contact his family, eventhough I’ve thought about it. I don’t think he has told anyone else how he truly feels.

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote


      It’s frustrating when our friends don’t respond to our attempts to help them.  This fact sheet might give you some ideas of what to do if you think your friend is really suicidal:

      This site might also have some resources that are more local to you:

      While you’re trying to get help for your friend, remember that it’s important for you to also care for yourself.  Don’t let yourself get too stressed or overwhelmed.  Talk to someone about it.  It’s a lot to handle on your own!

      Thanks for reaching out,
      The ReachOut Crew

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