Linda Lewis Griffith

How to help friends in times of emotional distress

The Fresno Bee

Several of my dear family members and friends are in the midst of emotional crises. Two lost close friends to cancer. Another has a parent who is ill plus a brother-in-law who recently had a heart transplant.

Watching them struggle breaks my heart. I would do anything to shoulder some of their burdens.

I also realize I can’t solve their problems. These are their life issues, not mine.

Still, I want to offer support however I can. The key lies in knowing what to do and how to be helpful without being intrusive.

Start by understanding your relationship with the people in distress. If you’re in their innermost circle (think best friend or close relative) it’s appropriate to spend time at the hospital, baby-sit younger children, attend doctor’s visits or stop by late at night if you happen to see they’re still awake.

If, on the other hand, you’re a wave-across-the-parking-lot acquaintance, you might offer to drive a child to soccer practice or simply offer a hug. Whatever you think is appropriate — check with the recipient first.

I’ve known folks who welcomed communal involvement and others who were adamantly against inconveniencing their friends.

It’s also OK to repeat your offer of help several times.

Well-meaning acquaintances frequently say, “Let me know if you need anything.” But their intentions aren’t serious and can actually be confusing. Hence, friends and family in need are likely to dismiss your first suggestion.

Instead, look them squarely in the eye and say, “I’m here for you. Just tell me what you need.”

Or propose doing something specific: “I’m happy to teach your yoga class until you’re back on your feet.”

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit

Got a friend in need? Here are a few ways you can help them

  • Be available. Show up in person if you can. Call often if you can’t. Your time and support may be the lifeline that gets them through the crisis.
  • Listen to them talk. They may have lots to process. Or they may be numb and mostly silent. Either way is OK. Your job is to hear whatever is on their mind.
  • Be comfortable with silence. There’s often not a lot going on when people are struggling. Don’t feel a need to entertain them or fill the void with idle chatter. Allow silence to be enough.
  • Be flexible. A life in crisis can change drastically and without notice. Accept the day’s news and react accordingly.
  • Don’t be judgmental. Now is not the time to lay blame, find fault or label other’s actions. Keep your opinions to yourself.
  • Offer suggestions cautiously. It’s fine if you share a similar experience or relate information you’ve recently heard. But check in with your friend’s reactions. If they’re not favorable, drop the issue.
  • Allow them to call the shots. You may disagree with your friend’s choices. But resist the urge to intervene. It’s their crisis, not yours.