33 Ways To Be A Better Friend
Illustrations by Mr Michael Kirkham
How can we do more to help those who may be suffering at the moment – whether from mental health issues, or generally feeling a little bit isolated or down (understandable given the year everyone has had)? This is something we at MR PORTER are asking ourselves this week on the anniversary of our Health In Mind campaign. When our mates are going through a hard time, it can be just as tough to figure out how best to reach out, and what exactly to say. Beyond checking in, is there anything else we can be doing?
We teamed up with our friends at Movember to come up with 33 ways to be a better friend. Have a read, below, get stuck in, and, if you like, let us know the results over on our social media hashtag #TIMEwithHIM.
Stop scrolling. Call a friend. Check in.
01. Be relentless
“I’ve always found that being consistent and bloody relentless as a friend when times get tough is the way to go. It means that they know in the back of their minds that you’ll be there and tend to be more likely to reach out early before the shit hits the fan. Friends don’t need rescuing, they just need to be listened to, and more importantly heard. So, start by asking, don’t assume what’s going on.”
Dr Zac Seidler, clinical psychologist and director of Mental Health Training, Movember
02. Be a good listener
In 2016 the Harvard Business Review analysed the data of 3,492 participants on what a good listener was. The main takeaways were: don’t just be silent, ask questions that promote discovery and build the other person’s self-esteem. Make suggestions and give feedback; make it a cooperative conversation.
03. Reach out now
Take note: 31 per cent of men report weakened relationships with friends/colleagues since the Covid-19 outbreak. Consider making more of an effort during this time.
04. Don’t judge
“Having recently supported a friend of mine through a suicidal crisis, I asked her what had helped. This is what she said: ‘Just knowing I could say anything and you wouldn’t judge me or freak out was the main thing. You asked what I needed, listened properly to what I said and were just super practical. I felt totally safe. I knew I could call on you at any time and although at times I worried I was a burden, I also felt a responsibility to you because you helped so much, and that helped me get through.’”
Associate Professor Jo Robinson, head of Suicide Prevention Research, Orygen
05. Be available
Let them know you’re there: 70 per cent of men say their friends can rely on them for support, but only 48 per cent say that they rely on their friends.
06. Be mindful
Chances are, a man close to you is struggling with their mental health right now. It can be tricky to spot the signs. A friend who’s not sleeping, a colleague who’s lost interest, a man in your family who’s more irritable than normal. Check out Movember’s guide to spotting the signs at movember.com/signs.
“A great friend shares in the happy times and rejoices in your success. An even better friend reaches out and provides an opportunity to talk when you’re going through tough times”
07. Know what to say
Watching for changes in behaviour and asking observational questions can let the person know you’re paying attention. “I’ve noticed you’ve been pretty down lately. What’s going on?”, “You don’t seem like yourself. Are you OK?” or “Haven’t heard from you in a while, is everything OK?”
08. Be a smart “Alec”
Communication and connection are important – now more than ever. Many men are dealing with losing a job, financial stress, loneliness and other triggers affecting their mental health. Ask: try starting by mentioning anything different you’ve noticed. Listen: give him your full attention, without interruptions. Don’t feel you have to diagnose problems, offer solutions or give advice. Encourage action: help him to focus on simple things that might improve his wellbeing – is he getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and eating properly? Check in: suggest you catch up again soon.
09. Be present
“Being a great friend to me means making sure that I’m present to people. We seem to live such distracted lives – we seem to be going here, there and everywhere. To be a good friend means that I will stop and really connect with what is happening in their life. I think at deeper level it is being is allowing them to be vulnerable with me and vice versa.”
Mr Kamal Sarma, CEO of Rezilium, mental resilience coach
10. Have an honest conversation
“There’s a lot that goes into making and maintaining a good friendship. Reciprocity, compromise, appreciation of one another’s opinions and perspectives, and honest conversation are just some of the things that contribute to a lasting bond with your mates. Showing genuine care for your friend, just as you would want others to do for you, is a great way to build trust and show that you’ve got each other’s backs through thick and thin. Finally, make time for each other; a good friendship shouldn’t be taken for granted.”
Professor John Ogrodniczuk, director of psychotherapy, University of British Columbia
11. Be understanding
In 2015, FifPro found that 38 per cent of active footballers suffered from mental health issues. Anyone can feel depressed or anxious, so don’t be surprised if your friend does, or assume that they don’t.
12. Take it seriously
Every minute, a man takes his own life. Mental health is not to be taken lightly.
13. Be vigilant
Mental health is a leading cause of disability worldwide and one in four men have reported worsened mental health since the pandemic.
14. Put the phone down
According to research by RescueTime, we spend on average three hours and 15 minutes on our phones every day. Phubbing – snubbing our friends to go on our phones mid-conversation – is commonplace. A paper published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that even people who imagined they were being phubbed felt more negatively about an interaction.
15. Understand the dangers
Loneliness has the same impact on mortality as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Check in with a mate you haven’t heard from in a while.
16. Praise success
“A great friend shares in the happy times and rejoices in your success. An even better friend reaches out and provides an opportunity to talk when you’re going through tough times. I make an effort to check in on people if they’ve gone quiet for a while or if I know they’re dealing with some heavy stuff. Make a date to catch up or even just send a text. I put reminders in my calendar to check on friends who have lost loved ones. When someone says they’re fine, I ask more questions. It can make a massive difference to know that someone is looking out for you.”
Dr Kylie King, senior research fellow, Monash University
17. Pick up the phone
Ofcom reported in 2017 that phone call usage dropped year on year for the first time in history. While connecting with friends on the group chat is fine, it can feel impersonal and fleeting. If you can’t meet in person, nothing replaces the personal touch of a phone call.
18. Don’t be scared
Reach out: since the outbreak of the pandemic, 50 per cent of men have never been asked whether they’re having a hard time.
19. Be sensitive
One in six men have often felt lonely since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak. Stay tuned in to changes in behaviour – has a friend gone quiet on the group chat? Did they post something out of character on social media?
20. Be resourceful
You don’t have to ask a friend how they are. Send them a meme, arrange a coffee, share an article, send them a Spotify recommendation, ask them about work, ask their opinion on something you both care about, congratulate them on something they’ve achieved, text to say you miss them, send them an old picture.
“To me, being a better friend is about creating opportunities to maintain connections, and tightening the space between checking in with those we care about”
21. Be interested
“Borrowing from Oprah – be interested and interesting... and knowing from the outset that the friendships that last are built on a reciprocity of mutual help. Never go it alone.”
Professor John Oliffe, founder of Men’s Health Research, University of British Columbia
22. Be aware
Did you know: 2.5 million men in the UK say they do not have a single friend whom they could turn to in a crisis.
23. Understand the causes
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the major causes of poor mental health among men. These include: social isolation, fears about job security, money worries, strains on a relationship, anxiety, stress.
24. Go beyond the “like”
Research conducted in 2018 by the University of Pennsylvania found that limiting social media to 30 minutes a day significantly reduces loneliness and depression. Do something more meaningful with your mate.
25. Get serious
According to a YouGov poll in 2017, almost a quarter of young men (16-24) self-harm to cope with depression. Samaritans says you can support such men by: listening and responding in a non-judgemental way, remaining calm, acknowledging the intensity of their distress, focusing on the feelings and emotions behind their self-harm, checking how you can best help them, and offering to help find them support. Openly offer your time and make sure they understand that you are there to help them.
26. Watch the drink
If you think your friend is overdoing it on the booze, alcohol.org advises: do find five minutes when they are sober to talk, be clear about the negative impact their drinking is having, listen to the response, find solutions and discuss changes they could make, decide actions, and put them into practice. Don’t get into an argument, use personal attacks, threaten, generalise (“you always”) or dredge up the past.
27. Have self-awareness
Part of being a good friend is knowing yourself. Social tension can be traced back to a failure of taking responsibility for our failures. Accept your strengths and weaknesses, understand the impact of your behaviour, accept what you see without resentment. The one thing you have in common with all your friendships is you.
28. Understand the value
“Family relationships often come with a dose of guilt and obligation. Friends, on the other hand, are the antidote to the burdens of daily life.”
The New York Times’ Smarter Living “How To be A Better Friend”
29. Discuss your problems
Consider telling your mates about your own problems and mental health issues. Not only will this help you and explain certain behaviours, it can invite conversation and help them open up; mentalhealth.org.uk recommends practicing your opening sentence, choosing a quiet place and being prepared for your friend to be shocked. You may need to explain the issue further if they say something like “you’ll be fine”, or “pull yourself together”.
30. Maintain connections
“To me, being a better friend is about creating opportunities to maintain connections, and tightening the space between checking in with those we care about. We know that as we get older, especially for men, the gaps between those catch-ups with our friends can start to widen if we’re not careful. Sure, we can pick up where we left off, but may miss an opportunity to really be there when someone needs us, or for someone to be there when we need them. Spending time with people whose company we enjoy can have a profoundly positive impact on our wellbeing.”
Mr Brendan Maher, global director of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Movember
31. Get active
The Royal College of Psychiatrists recognise exercise prescription as a treatment modality for a wide range of mental health conditions. Why not invite your mate to join your five-a-side, or suggest a game of squash? Even a walk will do.
32. Tell them they’re great!
According to telegraph.co.uk, “A 2016 US study of more than 100,000 men highlighted how male self-confidence is affected by body image; disturbingly, fewer than half of the men surveyed were satisfied with their body.” Low self-esteem is a big driver and symptom of depression and anxiety. Tell your mates what you like about them.
33. Put them in your calendar
“I run a business so sometimes I can be a bit forgetful especially with the people closest to me. So, when I have a conversation with a mate and they share that they have something important coming up, whether it’s an interview, a conversation or a project they’re working on, I make sure to ask when it’s happening. As quickly as possible I pop a note in my diary to text or call them on that date. A simple message like, ‘Thinking of you today. You’ve got this!’ can make all the difference.”
Mr Sean Hall, CEO of Energx