How to Be There

September 17, 2021

News Type:  Director's Corner

In honor of Suicide Prevention Month, we asked members of SPRC’s Lived Experience Advisory Committee about their experiences with the power of human connection.

Read their responses and learn more about how to be there for others.

Q1. How has someone been there for you in the past?

“I’ll never forget the time that my best friend noticed how overwhelmed I was and helped me slowly move physically and emotionally away from the stressors and toward some good old fashioned ice cream. Distraction was what I needed, and they were there to provide it.” – Sam Brinton

“During a really difficult time, a friend who knew my situation would call me randomly during the day to check in with ‘How are you doing, really?’ and would listen and support. No advice, just warm support. It made a huge difference.” – Terresa Humphries-Wadsworth

“Being there for me means being accepted as I am without expectation or judgment. It means creating a space where I am allowed to exist as I am.” – Susie Reynolds Reece

“My big brother has Down syndrome and he and I have always been in tune with each other’s emotions. He doesn’t let inhibitions get in his way. He has always known when I was struggling, even when I may not know myself. He doesn’t always say something, but he gives me a huge hug and tells me he loves me. This has been such a huge help in the past and is still helpful for me today.” – Tony Stelter

Q2. How is someone there for you now?

“My husband is there for me time and time again when people misgender me. By quietly and calmly reminding folks that I use they and them as my pronouns, he keeps me from having to reiterate the best way to respect me, which can literally save my life.” – Sam Brinton

“Lately, I’ve been putting a lot of energy into being there for myself. I know we normally mean another person, but I think it’s even more important that we are present for ourselves. Once we are there for us, we can start to understand what we need from others and how we can also be there for them.” – Susie Reynolds Reece

“My sister is always willing to listen without judgment when I need to talk. I know she’s just a phone call or a cup of coffee away.” – Tony Stelter

Q3. How have you been there for someone else?

“This past year and a half has been hard for so many. I have several people I’ve been checking in on regularly throughout. Sometimes that looks like a heart emoji, or a shared song sent via text, or even a handwritten note. Simple things matter and they can bring us out of the fog right when we need them, too.” – Susie Reynolds Reece

“On many occasions in the past and on any occasion in the future, if one of my family or friends are struggling, I will go just be there with them. I don’t have to do anything else besides be there and let them know I love them and I’m here for them.” – Tony Stelter

Q4. How do you need someone to be there for you?

“I need people to be there for me by asking, ‘How would you like me to respond to what you are telling me?’ This question is powerful because it gives me autonomy over my well-being, a factor that in my experience is often taken away in mental health and psychiatric systems when talking explicitly about wanting to die.” – Ysabel Garcia

“I need someone that is willing to just be there with me. They don’t need to give me advice or use any ‘magic words.’ I just need them to sit with me and be with me.” – Tony Stelter

Q5. What advice do you have about being there for others?

“The hardest learned lesson is to stop and listen.” – Christopher Epperson

“In my experience, the best way to ‘be there’ for another person comes down to a few things. First, I think it’s important to try to have some degree of familiarity with how people prefer to be checked in on. Some people just want to be sat with in silence, some people prefer a hand on the shoulder while others prefer not to be touched at all, and others want a deep conversation where they can verbally process their emotions. So, the best way to be there is to know the other person’s preferences. This comes down to asking, ‘What is most helpful to you when you’re feeling this way?’

Now, this is obviously not always possible when we feel like one might benefit from a check-in. Without knowing another’s preferences for what is most helpful to them, the next best thing is to just show up. Show up in their texts and let them know that you are thinking about them, show up with a phone call and be prepared to leave a message, show up in an email and remind them that you are always there if they need to talk. I think that disclaimers can also help, such as ‘If this isn’t helpful, then just let me know.’ Give people the opportunity to define what works for them so that we can zone in on their preferences. Allow them to define that for themselves, rather than telling them what we think we would want to hear.

I also think that lived experience can be transformative during these experiences. It can be difficult to pull off sometimes without having the other person to feel dismissed if we are not focusing on their needs. If done correctly, lived experience helps to remind others of the shared experiences that bind us in our human existence. I would just say that ‘being there’ is an active process. This means that we are called to be proactive and intentional.” – Will Hogan

“Right now, pausing is so crucial. Pause and process. Take a breath. And more than anything, be exceedingly kind to absolutely everyone right now. Far too many are struggling; let’s not add weight to their shoulders.” – Susie Reynolds Reece

“Many have been there for me during my need and I have been there for others. Examples [that other people might use] are:

  • Be available to speak or text at 3 a.m., when suicidal thoughts can be strong.
  • Listen to them when they are in crisis or suicidal without freaking out.
  • Tell them some of the things that comfort me at those times in case they haven’t thought of them (funny animal videos, chocolate, good smelling candles).
  • Be willing to be there as support for crisis calls.
  • Take them something to eat and drink when they can’t for themselves. 
  • Stay on the phone with them until they feel better, even if we don’t talk.
  • Send them caring random postcards, just so they get something in the mail.
  • Go to the park with them.
  • Help them clean their place. 
  • Cook a home-cooked meal for them.
  • Listen to them without giving any feedback or advice, unless asked.
  • Give them a gift.
  • Wish them a Happy Birthday.
  • Watch their pet for them.
  • Take their fur baby for a walk if they can’t. 
  • Run an errand for them.
  • Bring them fresh flowers.
  • Share a hobby with them.
  • Make a call or video call to them.
  • Give them a ride if they don’t have a car.
  • Go for coffee or out to eat.
  • Go to a comedy show.
  • Go to a medical or dental appointment with them.
  • Help them with something on the computer.
  • Help figure out how to do something that is daunting to them.
  • Go window shopping with them, just to get out.
  • Go to the zoo with them.
  • Go to a 12-step meeting with them.”

– Diana Cortez Yañez