Supporting others

Mobilize their support team: find support for others

5 minutes

Learn more about post-traumatic growth & creating a more meaningful life after hardship.

When someone you care about is struggling, you can make a big difference by showing up, whether you’re offering practical support or a shoulder to cry on.

But in life’s hardest moments, people often need more support than any one person can give. You likely can’t be available every time your loved one needs help or wants to talk. One of the most meaningful ways you can support someone is not just by stepping in yourself, but by mobilizing their broader support system.

  • Tip #1
    Find sources of support for others

    A helpful place to start is understanding what your loved one needs. When someone is anxious, depressed, or grieving, they may not be able to cook for themselves or conjure up the energy to find a therapist. This is where a broader support network can step in.

    Sit down and map out the people in your loved one’s support network. This can include people who are already an active part of your loved one’s support network like friends or family members and people or resources you don’t personally know, but could be helpful like colleagues, doctors, or support groups.

    One way you can map out a loved one’s support network is to draw out “rings of support.” In this model, the people most directly affected by a crisis sit at the center of a series of social rings. Those least affected sit in the outermost rings.

  • How to do it
    • Place your loved one and anyone your loved one is directly supporting in the day-to-day, like a child or a parent if the other parent is sick, in the innermost circle.
    • Work outwards from there, adding all of the people in your loved one’s support network to rings based on how close they are to the crisis. These rings can include parents, friends, siblings, partners, neighbors, coworkers, or community members. Make sure to include yourself as part of these rings as well.
    • In the outermost circle, include medical or mental health providers, community groups, or organizations that might be helpful. These could include support groups, online communities, employee assistance programs, religious groups, or social service agencies. Online research or asking a few trusted people in outer circles can help you find these resources.
  • Tip #2
    Mobilize support

    Psychologist Susan Silk developed the ring of support model following her own cancer diagnosis to clarify the direction support should flow. The rule is “Comfort in, dump out.”

    People and resources in the outer rings should directly support those in the inner rings. If people farther from the center need help, they should look outward for support. That way, they won’t drain people who are more directly affected by the situation.

    Because your loved one sits near the center of this situation, almost every name on your diagram is a potential source of support that you can mobilize.

  • How to do it

    Often, people who are willing and able to help hang back. They might be worried about overstepping or just not sure what to do. You can break down these barriers by giving helpers specific suggestions for how to offer support.

    Activating helpers could involve:

    • Organizing a meal delivery schedule
    • Calling on people’s collective knowledge of local support groups, mental health or medical professionals, or nonprofits they would recommend for support
    • Organizing a check-in schedule so your loved one gets a supportive text or phone call every day
    • Mobilizing people to promote or contribute to a fundraiser
    • Creating a team to run interference with difficult relatives at a funeral
    Whatever you choose, be sure to clear it with your loved one to make sure that it feels supportive, not intrusive. You can also make it easier for your loved one to get the support they need by creating a list of tasks that helpers are willing to take on. Knowing who is up for walking the dog or running a necessary errand can lower the barrier to asking for help—it’s much easier to ask for support that someone has agreed to give.

  • Tip #3
    Support your loved one by supporting their loved ones

    One way to help is supporting the people who normally rely on your loved one. You can identify those people by looking at the center of the ring of support.

  • How to do it

    Remove some of the weight your loved one is carrying by helping the people who depend on them for support. This might look like:

    • Helping kids with homework or taking them somewhere fun for a few hours
    • Driving elders to medical appointments or keeping them company so your loved one can take time for themselves
    • Comforting someone who is accustomed to leaning on your loved one for emotional support
  • Tip #4
    Take care of yourself!

    Supporting a loved one through a major life challenge isn’t easy, especially if you’re also affected by the crisis or dealing with hardships of your own. To keep taking care of your loved one, you’ll also need to invest in taking care of yourself.

    If you’re feeling stretched thin, remember - comfort in and dump out with the person who is struggling. You can find tips for how to take care of yourself by practicing the basics, showing self-compassion, and accepting your own feelings.

Often, people who most need support are the least able to mobilize it. They may be too sad or overwhelmed to reach out. Or they may feel too awkward about asking for help. That’s where you come in.

Whether your loved one needs a stream of meal deliveries or regular check-ins to know people care, you can make a big difference by sharing the load and finding and organizing their broader support network to step up.

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