“HELP!” How to Be There for a Friend in Crisis

They’re crying. They’re scared. Something’s happened. They lit their dorm room on fire heating up a glue gun, their father’s had a heart attack, one of their roo mates is going psycho on them 24/7, or someone has passed on and the funeral’s tomorrow. Would you go? What do you do? What can you do? What should you do?

Not everyone’s Joe Cool in a crisis. We don’t always feel equipped to counsel or to intervene. But we feel like we need to do something because this is our friend and he/she is in need.

Why do we help? Because it’s the decent thing to do. Because we hope someone would help us in his/her position. Because that’s what it means to be a friend. Hell, that’s what it means to coexist in a community and make no fu*king mistake that whether it’s college, an office, or just good old Manhattan, you’re part of a community.

The first way you can be of aid is to listen. What a lot of people in crisis need first and foremost is an ear. Being listened to accomplishes a number of productive and helpful things: you give them an outlet to express their concern/pain/worry, you validate their pain, and it’s an opportunity for them to talk through their problem.

The next thing to do is to gauge the seriousness of the situation. This is very key in determining how next to approach their problem. Is it imminent danger? Is this life and death? Is this a police matter? Should their family be told? Do they need to be protected and removed from a bad environment (abusive boyfriend, parents, etc.)?

Each person is different and needs a different approach. No matter what though, listening and being compassionate is universal. Compassion includes tough love, tough truths, and tough questions, sometimes.

Once you’ve listened and gauged the severity of the crisis’ nature, then comes the hardest part: action. What you actually do. Sometimes, just listening is enough. Sometimes, being there is enough. Standing beside them at a funeral. Letting them cry on your shoulder after a bad break up. Sitting without judging as they scream their betrayal at the wall/sky/television. On the other hand, if it’s life and death, you’ve got to call in a professional of some kind.

If you’re scared they’ll hurt themselves then call in your RA, their parents, the police, an emergency room, SOMETHING. Or maybe you can just take them out to take their mind off of it. Escaping, even just for a few hours, can put a wedge between them feeling hopeless and hopeful. If you’re clever and tough enough to beat up the ass*ole boyfriend without getting caught then by all means. Whatever you do, you’ve got to act in the interest of their safety and protection (duh, right?).

And you’ll have to also accept that in some cases you can’t help after a certain point. Some crises are so sudden or severe that they’re beyond what you’re capable of. Sometimes we can’t say or do the right thing because it doesn’t exist. Addiction, for example. You can pull out the intervention banner every day but that doesn’t mean they’ll be able to stop. You can’t fight a disease. You can’t fight back against death. There are things we must accept are beyond our capabilities to help fix and instead focus on helping them deal with those tragedies/inevitabilities/impossibilities.

The most important thing you can do to help is to try to help. It means you care. It shows them they’re not alone in the dark. You give them a lighted path. Whether it can lead them out of the hole is another matter.

Lean on me,

The Dude

How have you helped a friend in the past? Are there any right words to say?

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