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Supporting Others (whilst looking after yourself)

Peer Support – How to be a friend

Here are some suggestions that we think are useful when supporting friends in all sorts of circumstances. You could be supporting a friend who is grieving or has come out of a relationship, someone who is unwell either physically or mentally or they may be going through a hard time with their studies, employment or having issues with family or friends. Whatever the situation is, there are some simple strategies that you can use to show your friend that you are there, you care and are listening to them, that they have someone to support them and help them to work out what they want and need to do.

Top Tips for looking after your friends.

Doing the right thing:

  • Reach Out – make yourself available whether in person, via technology or old school, write a letter, it is the art of showing up that resonates.
  • Remain Calm – let them know you are here, you might not know all the answers or how best to support them but you can work it out together.
  • Listen a lot, listen actively, empathetically and allow them to talk or not, sit in silence or just be with you. Humans are naturally social and need to have connections for their own wellbeing, so just having someone to listen can be a huge help.
  • Be aware of body language, understand the impact that your body language can have on a conversation. As a form of nonverbal communication, body language includes: facial expressions, gestures, posture, head movement and eye contact. How you look at, mirror, sit or stand/walk with a friend can impact on their emotions. You can show them your feelings through your body language. Body language is believed to contribute to a significant amount of what we as Humans are trying to say.
  • Utilise different responses for different situations. For example, if a friend has suffered a loss, listening and supporting, remembering with them and giving them time to work through the grief cycle can be helpful. For someone who has lost a job, more practical support and advice might be more useful, job search, interview prep, budgeting etc.
  • Try to remain in contact with your friend and don’t treat the support as a one-time thing. Maintaining contact throughout someone’s experience can really help them to know that you value their friendship and they mean a lot to you.

Say the right thing:

  • Say the right thing – make it about them and not you. Keep your focus on your friend, let them know that they are not alone in life. Let them know you are sorry that they are having a rough time.
  • Make them laugh, hold eye contact, distract them with fun and joy. Making someone laugh and think away from the situation can give them a few moments to have time away from their worries and concerns.
  • Watch clichés, use honesty effectively – ‘Everything happens for a reason’ statements aren't helpful when you're trying to comfort a friend. You cannot quantify anyone’s grief or experience, just because statistics might say what they are going through may be commonplace, that doesn’t help with their emotions.
  • Stay positive – listen and ask questions and when possible focus on positive elements of the situation.
  • Offer solutions or ask them questions to enable them to find the solutions themselves, ask them how you can help - What's the best way I can support you right now? Do you need someone to vent to? Or would you like my advice? How are you feeling about whatever tough experience your friend is going through? Tell me about your thought process. Try not to foist your opinions on your friend to try and fix and overcome the problem. Try not to become so upset on their behalf that it affects your own wellbeing.
  • Accept that they might not listen or act on your suggestions/support. This is ok. Sometimes it can be frustrating when those we care about cannot see a solution that might be obvious to them. They might not be ready to make these changes or act on your suggestions. They might not be ready to access support. This is their decision, support them with the process and be confident that by offering this support they may come to act in the future in their own timeframe. Other Actions:
  • Report and abuse, safeguarding and know where to go to in order to escalate the situation. In instances where you are concerned about the welfare of your friend or someone they have told you about, you might find yourself in a situation where you think action needs to be taken to support, safeguard and protect your friend or those connected. In this instance, it is important to remember the options you have, not only on campus, but online and external to the University. Please see our list for crisis numbers
  • Let them be sad for a while and sit with their worries, but help them to see any positives.
  • Distract them by doing something fun
  • Keep it confidential (unless of course there are issues around safety, abuse and risk or vulnerability)

Useful resources

At the University of Warwick

  • Security on campus 22083
  • Nightline 024 7641 7668, or Internal ext 22199. 9pm – 9am. Term-time ·
  • Wellbeing Support Services You may wish to contact Wellbeing Support Services to access further support for you or your friend
  • Student Union Support

Other Resources

The University of Warwick cannot be responsible for the content of other websites

Peer to Peer Workshops

This session is to provide you with support and advice on how to look after each other and support your friends.