“What should I say to someone who is struggling?” After a friend recently asked me that question, I reflected on a recent blog where I discussed the power of words. Words can be uplifting, but they can also be disheartening. Even saying nothing can convey a certain message. That led me to think about what I want and need to hear when I’m struggling. What do you want to hear from a family member or friend when you’re struggling or in anguish?

What do each of us really need to hear? I suspect we all need to hear that we’re loved and know our lives matter. The loneliness of the pandemic has stressed just how much we need each other as human beings. As our church returned to in person worship this Fall, attendees were asked what they missed the most, and the predominate statement was that we missed being together.

I have had my share of struggles in life, but certain words and actions were important in helping me navigate through those valleys. During those periods, I needed to be assured I wasn’t alone, and that life would be okay on the other side of the valley. I found great comfort in words such as, “I care about you,” “I am here for you,” “Let me know how can I help,” “Do you want to talk about what’s troubling you,” “I’ve been concerned about you,” “You’ve been in my thoughts and prayers,” and of course one of the simplest and most powerful statements of all, “I love you.”

On the other hand, there were words and actions that may have been well intended but were not very helpful. Sayings like, “I know how you feel,” or “I had a similar situation.” The most troubling of all was total avoidance by saying nothing.

So, let’s circle back to my friend’s question: “What should I say to someone who’s struggling?” That question was specifically about someone struggling with a mental health issue, but it can be expanded to many circumstances in life that may jar our existence such as the death of a family member or friend, marital separation or divorce, knowledge of being diagnosed with a serious or terminal illness, etc.

During those periods of loneliness, we need to be assured that others care about us. As I’ve stated in previous blogs, the stigma and shame that surrounds those living with mental illness and substance use disorder compounds loneliness. As the year comes to a close, think of family members, friends and employees who have experienced losses over this past year or are currently in a darker valley of life. Reach out and let them know you care, and you are here for them. We all crave reassurance that others care, and we all need each other.