If you have a friend or loved one who’s in treatment for a mental health disorder, or in recovery from an alcohol or substance use disorder, you probably want to help them in any way you can. And you should help them, if you can, because the fact you know about what they’re going through means they trust you with that information, and they want your help.
The holidays can be a tough time for these friends.
But you may not know what to do, or how to help.
That’s okay: you’re not a trained therapist.
The first thing you can do is keep being a friend, and keep being yourself: that’s why your friend trusted you with their personal information – i.e. their mental health challenges or the alcohol or drug problems – in the first place.
So don’t change how you interact with them – simply do it with a heightened awareness that during the winter holidays, they might a little extra support.
Here are five things you can do to help.
Five Tips to Support A Friend or Loved One in Recovery
- Include them. Invite them to wholesome (yes, we used that word) family activities. Tree lighting events, caroling, cooking, hayrides, holiday plays and concerts, events at school – all these things are the kind of wholesome, soul-nourishing activities we mean.
- Give them a call. Call them just because. Call them to say hi. Maybe they’re don’t want to go to an event – make time for a coffee date. And if their challenges or issues are an open topic between you, then tell them you’re calling because you know holidays can be hard and you want to make sure they’re okay.
- Answer the phone. If they call you, try to answer the phone, or call back right away. Sometimes people dealing with emotional challenges have windows when they feel like talking. Sometimes those windows open and close relatively quickly. If the window is open, make the time to talk to them.
- Be specific. Most of us like to tell our friends, “If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call.” There’s nothing wrong with that. However, we suggest another tactic. Tell them you just made a great dinner and would love to either bring it over or have them come over and eat with you. Tell them you picked up groceries at the store and you’re on your way to drop off some things you picked up for them – you get the idea.
- Listen and support. Sometimes people just need a sympathetic ear, a shoulder to lean on, a hug, someone to cry with, or all at the same time. When friends reach out to you, they don’t always necessarily want you to fix their problems: sometimes they just need to talk – which means your job is to listen. And sometimes cry and hug, too. Be there for them in whatever way they’re asking you to be there for them, and they’ll appreciate you for it.
Support Means Everything
We want to remind you that if you’re in the loop on what’s going on in your friend or loved one’s personal life, it’s important to recognize the honor and privilege of your position. There’s a great deal of stigma around mental health issues and alcohol/drug problems, and the fact they shared their story with you means they trust you – and you matter.
Help and support them today, in whatever way you can. Because fifty years later, the lyrics of the classic Beatles tune ring true:
“We get by with a little help from our friends.”
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA who writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.