Supporting Friends from Afar
27 December 2021
As much as we’d love to be with our friends all of the time, especially when they need support, we unfortunately can’t always be there in-person.
This can make knowing when a friend needs support, and then feeling able to support them, seem like a trickier task than it should be. However, thanks to technology, there are often ways we can spot when a friend needs support.
It’s also important to remember that when we’re supporting friends, we need to make sure that we’re also supporting ourselves. When we’re supporting others, it can be very easy to cross our own personal boundaries (like staying up too late to support a friend on the phone) and take on too much.
How to Know When a Friend Needs Support
COVID-19 has thrown oﬀ our ability to see and support friends in person. When we’re apart from our friends, it can be harder to tell when they’re going through a rough patch or whether there might be something more worrying going on. While there are a few things that might cause concern, they might not always be obvious.
So, how might you tell a friend is struggling when you can’t see them in person?
You could start by connecting with them online. By looking at and responding to your friend’s posts, stories, or messages, you might be able to spot clues about how they’re feeling or what they’re going through that you might not have noticed before.
We’ve listed out some things that might be a sign that your friend is struggling:
Withdrawing from you or other friends and past hobbies - While it might not be as obvious online as it can be in person, you might still notice changes in your friend. Do they seem to be withdrawing from hobbies and friends by not posting about them or talking to them?
Engaging more in social media - Not everyone withdraws when they’re struggling with something; sometimes, people can engage more, especially with social media. Does your friend seem to be posting a lot more than normal? And if they are, do they seem like boredom posts, or does it seem like they’re posting to mask what else might be going on? Does it seem like they’re avoiding their feelings, or like maybe they need and want some help?
Sometimes, people ﬁnd it easier to repost quotes or memes to their story that hint at how they’re feeling. It can feel like asking for help without directly asking.
Other changes in behavior and language - Does your friend seem to be talking to or about things they might’ve been peer pressured into? Talking about changes in their hobbies and interests in a way that seems out of character (or maybe even worrying - like anything dangerous or illegal)?
Mentions of feelings - Some people show their emotions easily, but we can still miss it - especially as posts on social media can move so quickly! Try taking a look back through your friend’s posts and see what they’ve been saying or what sort of memes they’ve been sharing. Have they mentioned or do the memes suggest they might be feeling worried, anxious, hopeless, worthless, etc?
Remember, all of these things are potential clues that your friend might be struggling, rather than proof. It’s always best to talk to your friend if you are concerned about them rather than to assume anything.
And, on the other hand, we’re all very diﬀerent; you might not see these changes in your friend’s online presence. You might see other ones, or you might not spot any at all. As you know your friend best, you’re the best placed to know what is unusual or diﬀerent behavior for your friend.
So You Think Your Friend Needs Support, What Now?
If you’re worried about your friend, then you’ll want to reach out and support them. But it might feel as if it’s not your place, or that you don’t know what to say or do. This is totally normal, and a lot of people feel this way.
While it might feel tough to start the conversation, try to not worry about it feeling like you’re making it worse or upsetting them. In reality, your friend will probably be very thankful that you’ve cared about them enough to reach out, even if nothing is wrong - it might even help to think about how you’d feel if someone had reached out to you.
So how might you go about starting the conversation?
Reach out in private - Sending a private message on social media or a text to your friend rather than a public post is a good way to help your friend to feel safe enough to open up.
A simple message such as: “I saw your post, and I’m thinking of you” or “I saw your story, and if you want to to talk, I’m here” can be a nice way to open the conversation with your friend to let them know that you’re there if they do want to talk.
Listen - Let your friend lead the conversation, and allow them space to be heard and to get things oﬀ their chest. Try your best to pay full attention to them, and ask them questions about what you’re hearing so you can try to understand better.
Help provide options - If your friend would like to seek support from an organisation or hotline, why not help research some options for them? However, do not pressure your friend into seeking support that they may not want, as sometimes having someone to listen to is enough.
However, remember that you can’t do everything for your friend. While you want to support your friend, it is important to understand what you can and can’t do.
Your friend might need help from a professional who is specially trained to know how to support them.
If your friend needs urgent help and is unable to keep themselves safe, then you need to let an adult that you both trust know what is going on for your friend, and call 999 for the emergency services.
If you suspect that your friend is a victim of abuse or crime, then you also need to let a trusted adult know. This could be a parent, carer, teacher, or school nurse. You can also report this to the police by calling 101.
Supporting Yourself While Offering Support
Once you’ve opened the conversation up with your friend about what’s happening for them, you’ll probably want to keep it going. Don’t forget, though, that it’s okay if you don’t know how to help or don’t feel able to help. You can help your friend access some professional support, too.
However, it’s important to make sure that you are also supporting yourself throughout and aren’t taking on too much. Otherwise, you may not be able to support yourself or your friend as much as you want to.
So, how might you do that?
Setting boundaries, ﬁnding your frequency, and think about a time that feels okay for you - We all have topics that we personally don’t like to talk about for whatever reason, and you might ﬁnd that you don’t feel comfortable talking about whatever your friend is struggling with. And that’s okay.
You can help support them in ﬁnding a person or an organisation that they can talk to, instead.
It’s also important to set boundaries. For example, you might want to set a boundary about how often you can talk; otherwise, you may feel overwhelmed. Work out what works for you and your friend - maybe that’s once a day, every few days, weekly, etc.
It’s also okay to keep going back to the boundaries you set and make sure that they’re still working for you and your friend. For example, you might ﬁnd that you have to change your boundaries and potentially go from talking every day to talking weekly.
Only do what you can - When you’re not together in person, there are things that you can’t do. You can’t pop round for a chat, or for a catch-up while watching TV, or give them a hug.
Sometimes you’ll be able to ﬁnd other ways of doing those things - such as organising an online call - but other times you won’t. And that’s also okay.
Remember that you are not a professional, and there is only so much that you can do. You might want to help support your friend by suggesting they tell people closer to them about what’s going on, as they may be able to oﬀer support that you cannot.
Take breaks and make sure you have enough time for yourself - When you’re supporting a friend, you may not want to take a step back or worry about what will happen if you do.
However, it’s important that you take steps back and give yourself breaks from supporting them to make sure that you have enough time for yourself. Otherwise, you might struggle to support your friend due to feeling overwhelmed.
If you do want to take a step back, talk about it to your friend ﬁrst. Your friend might ﬁnd you taking a break is helpful and beneﬁcial for them as well, as it can give them a chance to build their own resilience.
Talk about how you’re feeling - Just because you’re supporting a friend doesn’t mean that you don’t need support as well. In fact, you may ﬁnd you need it more than ever.
And remember that just as with any person or relationship, you cannot control what your friend does or doesn’t do. All you can do is oﬀer your support and guidance.
Whether it’s a close friend or an old friend who you haven’t spoken to in years, don’t let the screen or phone between you stop you from being there to help. You might be the ﬁrst person who listens or encourages them to seek treatment, and that might change their life.
You’re doing the right thing by reaching out, and remember, it’s not all on you.
Kooth Student is a digital mental health care platform available free for all aparto residents.
At Kooth, individuals are able to connect with mental health professionals to receive safe, anonymous, and personalised support. Kooth users also get access to a whole host of useful resources such as a magazine, communal discussion boards, mini-activities, and podcasts.
Find a link in your residents facebook group.