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How to Be a Supportive Friend in Time of Need

  • Help her find support. Offering reassurance is important, but it usually isn't enough. If, for example, her son is acting up at school, urge her to meet with his teachers, the principal and the school counselor. In case of substance abuse, an eating disorder or mental health issues, "she should get professional care -- for her child, herself and the family," says Tammy Granger, a director at Caron Treatment Centers. "Say something like, 'This is a serious problem, one you can't handle alone. You need help from a psychologist or clinic. Let me help you find one.'" Offer to accompany her to the first meeting or appointment and, if necessary, several more until she's ready to go on her own.
  • Back her decisions. Don't question your friend's choice of treatment, even if you disagree. "You can't know all the details, and it's a decision only the family can make," says Cynthia Scott, a Melbourne, Florida, mom whose daughter had a terrifying middle school meltdown, turning from honor student to lying, fighting, defiant teen in danger of flunking. Cynthia and her husband, Jonathan, took an extreme approach, enrolling their child in a program that scares kids straight. "Those who helped me most didn't tell me I was right or wrong," says Cynthia, whose daughter, now 16, is thriving. "They held my hand, they were my sounding board, and they were invaluable."
  • Remember the little things. Small acts of kindness go a long, long way. "Just inviting your friend to take a walk can be healing," says Granger. So is baking a casserole, offering to cut the lawn or taking her other kids on an outing -- anything that lightens her load. A few weeks after Leslie's daughter started treatment, two of her closest friends showed up one evening with a fun movie, Wedding Crashers, and a bottle of wine. "It was just what I needed," she says. "They understood how desperate I was to think about anything but my daughter, at least for a few hours."
  • Be there for the long haul. Reassure your friend that you're there for her now, and that you always will be. "That's the best thing anyone can do," says Carol Harrigan, a social worker in Somers, New York, whose own son had a drinking problem for many years before she found out. "My friends stood by me all that time, including when I was in denial and blamed myself for everything." And they're still fiercely supportive, even though her son has been sober for a decade. Leslie is also grateful for those who stood by her. After her daughter came home from rehab, Leslie spent a year attending support group meetings. It was a difficult period, and Leslie has no doubt that her friendships helped sustain her -- and still do. "My daughter has been clean and sober since 2009," she says. "There's always the risk of relapse, but I know I'll find my way -- with the help of my friends."

Originally published in the July 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.