How to be a supportive friend through tough times

One of the best things about friendship is having someone there to support us. Whether we’re simply missing home, struggling with work or are suffering with more serious mental health issues, we can turn to our friends in times of need. As a friend, you can make a genuine difference to how someone’s feeling and how they get through a tough time.

This is especially important among students: Students rely on other students. They’re most likely to speak to their peers when they’ve got a problem or things get difficult and housemates often play a role in supporting people they live who are experiencing personal difficulties. In fact, in recent research, support from friends was one of the most cited reasons for why students decided to stay at university when they were otherwise thinking of leaving.

With friends being able to have such positive influence, what are the secrets to being that amazing friend?

When you’re busy and stressed yourself it can sometimes feel like you don’t have the time to be the great friend you want to. But, it’s the small things that can make a big difference and there are a lot of ways you can really make your friends feel loved, appreciated and supported. And you can fit them into your schedule!

  • Get in touch. Waiting for your dinner to cook? Walking to uni? Give them a call and have a catch up; ask them how they’re doing. If you know things aren’t going well send them a message; a simple ‘how are you?’ will do. They’ll know you’re there for them and that they can turn to you for support when they need it.
  • Nostalgia. Remind them of a great memory you had together. Send them some photos of a time you were having fun and laugh about good times. It will let them know how important they are to you and make it easier to think positively.
  • Favourites. Send them a song or video you think they’ll like or take round their favourite food. Small gestures like this mean so much and will help your friend feel better about themselves!
  • Go with them to something they’re dreading. Perhaps it’s an appointment they’re worried about or an important interview. Talk with them about it before, help them deal with the stress and go with them for support. Knowing your bestie’s by your side can make everything feel better and easier!
  • Hang out. Suggest things you think they’ll enjoy or will cheer them up. If they’re not up to doing anything, let them know you’re happy just hanging out doing nothing. Spending time with someone close to you, talking or watching a film can often be the best therapy.


“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”

It’s a great thing if your friends go to you with more serious personal problems when they really need support. It shows trust and that they feel comfortable sharing things with you. There may be times though, when a friend becomes withdrawn and seems to be avoiding you. It could be that they’re suffering from depression or anxiety or have other mental health issues which can lead to feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and isolation. If you know this to be true or have noticed a change in your friend’s behaviour that might be a sign, don’t take it personally. Even though they’re doing this, this is the time they need your support the most.

  • Send a message. If you don’t live with them or they’re isolating themselves send a message so they know you’re thinking of them. Don’t be annoyed if you don’t get a reply, just make sure they know you’re there.
  • Be patient. A friend with depression or anxiety might be more irritable than usual and take things the wrong way. This may mean reassuring them and being extremely patient when supporting them. And remember, it might take a while for you to see them improve.
  • Listen. Encourage them to talk about what they’re feeling and listen to what they’re saying. Ask questions, as appropriate. You can make a big difference by allowing them to open up and reassuring them that you care.
  • Understand. Try not to blame your friend for their feelings or tell them to ‘pull themselves together’ or ‘get over it’. Even though you may not have experienced what they’re going through, understand that they don’t want to feel this way and offer non-judgemental support. Don’t criticise as this will only make them feel worse.
  • Encourage them to seek help. You’re not expected to be a doctor or expert to your friends. If you’re worried about them, encourage them to seek professional help in a gentle and caring way. You can reassure them that it is possible to do something to make things better and that things will change.

If you’re worried about a friend or they’ve confided in you that they are struggling with mental health issues, it’s a good idea to talk to a relative or expert for advice on what you should do. Student Minds and Mind Charity have some great online advice on how best to deal with these issues. If their issue is drug or alcohol related, Rehab 4 Alcoholism offers a free helpline and intervention service.  Supporting a friend through a particularly difficult period can put you at risk of taking on a lot of stress personally, so make sure you look after yourself and get the right help and advice if needed.

Particularly now that exams have started and final assignments are due in, this is a particularly stressful time for students and for some, the pressure can be overwhelming. Keep an eye out on your friends and put some time in the diary together to take a break from work and studying. And if you’re feeling the pressure, don’t bottle it up, let someone know how you’re feeling. Together you and your friends can get through the exam stress! Everyone needs good friends and it’s easy to be that good friend and really make someone’s day with a small, simple gesture.

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