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I will try to create more happiness and less unhappiness in the world around me


Action 14

Help out a friend in need

Sometimes someone we know is going through tough times. Letting them know that someone is there for them can make all the difference and help them get through. Here are some ideas to try.

Why do it?

Connecting with people is vital for happiness and supporting others is critical for creating happy communities, yet when we are down or experiencing a rough patch in life (which we all do from time to time) it is easy to feel alone. And it can be hard to ask for support and help even from people we know well.

So when we can see that a friend, family member or someone we know in our community is having a hard time, reaching out to help them, even in a small way, can have an impact in helping them see light at the end of the tunnel.

Compassion when others are in distress is at the heart of happiness and flourishing communities and societies. It is a basic human emotion defined as recognising another person's suffering and wanting to take action to stop or reduce it. [1][2] As a fundamental part of human nature compassionate acts need no expectation of reward. But being there for others means that they are more likely to be there for us when we need help. Doing things for others also generates positive emotions for the giver as well as the receiver.

Where to start?

1. Tune into to how they're feeling

Knowing what to do to help when a friend need's support starts with tuning into them and their situation and matching that with what you are able to do. It sounds more complex than it is. Compassion is a natural response, but it is best done with a little sensitivity. If you think of something and you aren't sure how well it will be received, why tell them what you'd like to do for them and ask if it would be helpful? Remember it doesn't have to be a big thing, small gestures can be just as valuable.

2. Reach out to help them

  • Be there for them and really listen to what they're saying
  • Do something to brighten their day and help them feel more positive - for example bring them some flowers or a plant; bake them a cake; send them a web link you think they will find funny
  • Take the pressure off - find a way to help them or give them some space. For example, looking after their kids for an evening or doing some of their chores for them
  • Get them active - help create some space and boost positive emotions by getting them to do some kind of physical activity, ideally outside and with other people. So why not invite them out for a walk, a run, a dance or exercise class or to play sport?
  • Cut them some slack - don't add to the pressure by expecting them to be as vibrant or social as they normally are
  • Help them see and use their strengths rather than get weighed down by their weaknesses
  • Help them see their issues differently and not be too hard on themselves. But remember to be really sensitive with this - it's likely that what they need most is someone to listen to them, rather than advice
  • Keep in touch - just simply ringing or calling round to see how they are doing and if there is anything they need can make a big difference. It will help them to realize that you are there for them and care. Especially if you do this every few days or once a week until they are past their difficulties.
If they're really struggling

If your friend is really struggling to cope, they may need some professional support. For example if they're feeling very down over a problem and going round in circles or on a downward spiral, but not feeling able to take any action to deal with the issue.

While friends and family can be a great comfort and a good shoulder to cry on, sometimes professional expertise is needed to get to the real root cause and help the person to navigate a way through. It may be that they don't know how or that there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed before they can move on.

This is tricky as however much we feel someone would benefit from professional help, they need to be willing to reach out and accept it. So it may just mean making sure that they know where to find professional help, if and when they are ready. A good place for them to start is with their doctor or one of the organisations listed in the resources below.

In a few cases it may be that the issue is potentially very serious or even life threatening, in which case urgent help will be needed. Again getting them to contact their doctor (and even going with them if they need support) and asking for an appointment straight away, or for emergency help, calling the Samaritans or 999.

See our Unhappy? section for more information.


[1] Valliant, G. (2008).Spiritual Evolution: How we are wired for faith, hope and love. NY: Broadway Books

[2] Goetz, J.L., Keltner, D. & Simon-Thomas, E. (2010). Compassion: An evolutionary analysis and empirical review.Psychological Bulletin, 136, 351-374.


  • Charity providing help for people who experience all types of mental distress

  • Comprehensive website with lots of information to make choices about your health

  • Provides confidential non-judgemental emotional support, 24 hours a day

  • Helps people find out more about counselling and psychotherapy

  • Promoting health, respect and justice in couple and family relationships

  • Leading charity for people with eating disorders and their families

  • Counselling service for children and young people

  • Learn about the causes, symptoms and treatments of common mental health problems

  • Learn about the causes, symptoms and treatments of common mental health problems

  • Learn about the causes, symptoms and treatments of common mental health problems


Connect with people

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