How to be a good friend this Christmas, by a Samaritans volunteer

We're all expected to be surrounded by family, presents and delicious food during the Christmas holidays.

But the reality for many people is nothing like this - and you might find your friends turning to you for help.

"For a lot of our callers, every day is a struggle, but Christmas can be more of a struggle than usual," says Samaritans volunteer Nadine Barr.

Here's how she recommends you support the people you love.


Samaritans takes over 5.4 million calls every year, and Nadine says bereavement, loneliness and money are all common problems for people at this time of year.

"It can often be very hard for people to talk about how they actually feel deep down," says the 28-year-old.

Samaritans go through a training programme in which they learn what's called "active listening".

That's listening to people really closely, and using techniques to help them talk: asking open questions and trying not to interrupt.

"Asking open questions like, 'can you tell me what that feels like?' and 'what was that like for you?'. Those sorts of questions really help someone to open up, and don't result in a yes or no answer."

Don't assume you understand

"It's fundamentally changed how I listen to my own friends," says Nadine, who has been volunteering with the charity for three years.

"Before, I was very good at trying to find solutions and giving advice. What being a Samaritan has taught me is that we can't possibly give advice and solutions to any situation that we haven't experienced ourselves.

"Every single situation every person experiences is unique to that person, so how can we give advice? Because we just don't really know how they're really feeling."

But try not to worry about saying 'the wrong thing'

"There are quite a lot of cliched things that people say like 'it'll get better with time'.

"We're all human beings and sometimes we do say things that maybe are a little bit off the mark, but if there's well meaning behind [these comments] it's not bad.

"Sometimes just saying 'it sounds like it's been a truly awful time' [is enough].

"It's the acknowledgement of how tough it's been, or is, for them. That's all people want."

Use technology

Some people find it hard to talk about their problems, but that doesn't mean they don't want help.

"They should try something that works for them. It might be they feel comfortable writing a letter to you," says Nadine.

Samaritans also offers support via text, email and letter.

"You may want to send a text to your friend and say 'I'm here for you if you want to message right now, or message later on'. Keep it open that you're for them in any which way they want."

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