How to support a relative or friend through a difficult time

Find out how best to support a loved one through a difficult time

Woman holding the hands of a friend she is supporting during hard time

The news that a relative or friend is going through a difficult time is saddening to all involved. Perhaps they have just received news of an illness or someone close to them has passed away. Being in the position to comfort a person through a crisis is a wonderful way to express your love and support.

Before you begin to offer help you may want to consider how best to approach the situation. Here are some ways you can help when someone you care about needs support.

Be available to listen

Don’t worry too much that you won’t know exactly what to say – often a person just needs somebody to listen. If you have experienced a similar crisis, it can be a nice way for the two of you to relate, but do remember that their situation will be different from yours. And don’t keep interrupting with your story.

Be there to offer support, encouragement and respect. You might also be called on to help make decisions or clarify confusing information. Be gentle and avoid pushing the person into making a decision. If they seem confused, offer them simple choices them – even, “would you like to leave now or later?” is helpful.

Allow the person to talk about anything – not just their situation. Respect that sometimes the person may not want to talk and would instead prefer time to themselves. It’s important to give them this space, especially if you want to be someone they see as caring and trustworthy.

Perhaps the person will want to forget their troubles altogether and would welcome the opportunity to go out and have fun, socialise or see a movie.

Let the person know you care

Your relative or friend may find it difficult to ask for help, so keep in mind that you might have to be the one to initiate contact. Stay in touch with the person (without being overbearing) through calls, emails, letters and texts, making sure that when you call or drop around it is convenient for them.

When offering help, it is better if you can anticipate the person’s needs and offer practical help, rather than vaguely asking if there’s anything they need. Be observant and see what needs to be done around the house; especially focus on children if there are any. Putting on a load of washing or bringing over an unexpected, nutritious homemade dinner will probably be very gratefully accepted.

Be there for the person’s family

When someone is experiencing a hard time their family also suffers. Ask the person’s partner, children and parents how they are feeling and listen to their responses – sometimes the emotions of the people directly connected to the person who is suffering become overshadowed.  Be the one who listens.

Take care of yourself too

It can become emotionally and physically draining to be strong for someone else. Your own wellbeing is just as important as the person’s you are supporting, so remember to look after your own mental and physical health. Try to take breaks in which you breathe mindfully, and spend time doing things that make you happy. You may even consider seeking support yourself.

Do you have any suggestions for how to support loved ones through a tough time? Why not share them with our members?


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    10th Mar 2016
    Being available to listen, I think, is the most important, but phoning or appearing on the doorstep too often can be distressing to the one who may need comforting.
    10th Mar 2016
    Agree with Fast Eddie
    It is a fine balance - being supportive, non judgemental and kind without being overpowering or opinionated.
    People in distress may want to vent...need to give them time to safely express their grief and above all observe confidentiality.
    11th Mar 2016
    Yes be available, but do not be under their feet , let THEM decide who and what they need and when
    11th Mar 2016
    Having people acknowledge your loss is wonderful. Even if it's just a card. But calling round is just great. Also a lot of folk don't know what to say. This can be hurtful but we have to remember that often we cannot have empathy until we have been through the very same thing.
    11th Mar 2016
    Yes very true, however its nice to be able to be there if needed or wanted to allow the person/s to talk or shed a tear / express there feels and or fears
    11th Mar 2016
    I agree entirely Plan B. I lost a son 6 months ago to suicide and have learned and been through so much emotionally. The worst time of my life.
    13th Mar 2016
    PINKY -I am so sad to hear of your loss. When someone is in the final stages of death we are all aware of it, but to lose someone to suicide must be horrendous. I hope you have had counselling or join a group for those that have lost loved ones to tragedy. The thing is don't keep it bottled up, always talk about it and it does help.
    11th Mar 2016
    Sometimes is enough to be there without any words or gestures, perhaps just the physical presence of another person helps and then one can act as is needed, giving consolation of some sort to the afflicted person.
    11th Mar 2016
    Yes, this so true
    12th Mar 2016
    Do not intrude...just let them know you are them for them when needed.

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