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Our friends and family are the most important support network we have in life. We look after them, and in return, they lift us up when we need it. But as we’re all leading increasingly hectic lives, juggling work, careers, caring commitments and other things, sometimes it’s easy for things to slip between the cracks. If it’s not immediately obvious that a friend is struggling with something, it can be easy to miss the signs that they need our support. How can you tell if it’s just the pressure of ordinary life that we all face or whether it’s part of a larger issue – something like trouble at home, financial issues, depression or even substance abuse issues? Being a true friend requires putting down the phone and really listening, plus watching for important non-verbal cues that something is amiss.

Signs Something Is Wrong

Our gut instincts usually tell us if something isn’t quite right, but equally there can be signs that you may need to dive deeper into the problems a friend is having. Have they recently become apathetic – avoiding social gatherings, withdrawing from commitments and neglecting areas of their life they were previously on top of? Are they having extremely emotional reactions to small issues and every day setbacks that seem drastically out of proportion? These could all be signs that there are larger issues happening in their life. Conversely, being manic, where the person seems to be on an extreme high with sped up speech, they can’t sit still or are displaying reckless poor judgement or taking risks that are out of character can also be signs of an unbalanced life. If you suspect your friend is showing several of these signs, it could be worth a heart to heart to try and find out what the situation is – although be aware that they may not be ready to open up when you first broach the subject. Could they be under a lot of stress, misusing substances to try and mask some emotional pain, be experiencing depression or an eating disorder, or even be at risk of domestic violence? Don’t try and force your friend to open up, but do let them know you are always there to listen and support without passing judgement if they need you.

Having An Honest Conversation

You may be very worried about how to approach a subject which is obviously going to be delicate and quite emotional for your friend. A common worry is not knowing what to say if they have a terrible problem. Actually, the most important thing is your listening skills. Start by gently asking how they feel. Give a few specific examples of why you are concerned (for example, ‘I’m worried about you because you seem… I’ve been noticing that you’re doing…’. Reassure your friend that you’re there for them and you want to help. If they become reluctant to talk, don’t try and force the issue or take offence. Just tell them it’s okay if they don’t want to confide in you, but that if something is amiss they should try and talk to someone about it. Try to keep an open mind and hold back your own emotions, even if you are shocked and angry or upset about what they reveal. Let them know that they aren’t alone and that everyone struggles from time to time with certain issues. Reassure them that what they are feeling is normal and also that everything is temporary and feelings will pass with time. Tell them it’s perfectly okay to seek professional help if there is an issue they’re struggling with.

Helping Digitally
Sometimes it may not be in person, but on a person’s social media channels that you may notice they seem to be having a hard time. It could be hopeless sounding status updates or messages, or pictures that concern you. While it’s important to note that social media does not always reflect the truth of a situation, if you think you have reason to be concerned you may want to read up on a few support organisations and quietly approach them to see if they need any help. Keep in mind that you aren’t a therapist and should steer clear of trying to make any diagnosis of mental health issues yourself. Instead, encourage your friend to get in contact with a mental health support organisation so they can receive the correct guidance. Just reaching out and showing them that someone cares can often make all the difference in the world.

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