How to Help a Sad Person

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The portions of this post in italics were written by me, Blaize Sun, the Rubber Tramp Artist. The other portions of this post were written by Laura-Marie River Victor Peace and first appeared on her blog.

When I read my friend Laura-Marie’s blog post about helping a sad person, I immediately wanted to share it. The post is so important, not just because it suggests ways we can help each other, but also because it acknowledges that sadness exists. Too often we try to pretend life is all happiness all the time. Laura-Marie shatters that myth with her beautiful words.

Laure-Marie recently got really sick while she and her spouse were visiting me and The Man. She and her partner left early and went directly to the hospital where Laura-Marie stayed for several days. The first part of her post is about her time in the hospital and the immediate aftermath.

The second part of her post is a wonderful list of 70 things to do to help a sad person. So many of us don’t know what to do in the face of a friend or loved one’s sadness. This list gives ideas for concrete steps we can take to show a sad person that we really do love them and care about their well-being.

People ask Ming how I am.  They know I was in the hospital.  They wanna know if I’m better.  They care, for his sake and for mine.

I’m doing much better physically.  When I first came home from the hospital, I was so bad.  I could barely function.  I was at one percent.

There are the reasons you were in the hospital.  Well, you were not looking too living for a minute there.

Then there are the problems the hospital causes.  I had a terrible cough.  From lying down too much, maybe, in a hospital bed?  I was super weak.  Maybe from the same?

Or it could have been other reasons–the anemia, the sadness, how I wasn’t eating food for four days, losing weight really fast?

Weird stuff happened to me, in the hospital.  It’s not normal to get four bags of other people’s blood pumped into you, for example.  That’s not part of everyday life.  Or the strong drugs, the thing they put down my throat, what they did to my stomach, etc.

I had to get strength back, to become again capable of walking from a parking lot to a building, of walking through a store.  I took those things for granted, before.

And I thought it would take weeks, for my blood to be good again.  I didn’t understand it would take months!  I wish a doctor had told me that.  I wish I’d had a more realistic timeline.

Anyway, my friend asked Ming how I was.  I’m really up and down, emotionally.  Ming said no one knows what to say about that.

I told Ming they could help.  My blood, what could they do?  Buy me a bottle of iron pills?  For my emotional health, there are a hundred things they could do.

Ming was thinking the opposite.  He asked, “What could they do?”

“How do you help someone who’s sad?  Have you lived to be 52 years old and never helped a sad person before?”  I didn’t ask something so snarky, then, but I’ve said similar things in the past.  Sorry, honey.

I remember, talking about mental health struggles at Justice for our Desert.  Some people looked away.  Like I was talking about sex or money.  I think they were hurt, about it.

Maybe, well, you never know.  Something happened a long time ago?  Or for whatever reason, they’re not ready to go there.   So they wish I’d shut up.

Well,  I make a lot of lists–brainstorming self-care, what is comfort in this world, things I want or need, things a volunteer could do to help with Nevada Desert Experience, different to do lists, questions for doctors, foods I want to eat more of, people I like writing letters to.

Here is a list called how to help a sad person.

1.  listen
2.  offer hugs
3.  offer to hold hands
4.  don’t get defensive
5.  ask what you can do for them
6.  write them a love letter
7.  bring them a present that doesn’t require anything additional
8.  be very patient with them
9.  hand them tissues if they’re crying
10.  help with something on their comfort list
11.  like make them tea
12.  tell them something you like about them
13.  tell them a funny memory of something you did together
14.  say something unrelated really briefly to see if they want to be distracted
15.  take some pressure off them, like see if you can do one of their chores
16.  flowers in vase with water
17.  card with a pretty picture on it
18.  support their main support person
19.  give them a food they like, if they can eat
20.  check up on them often
21.  check up on them after everyone else stops
22.  grocery run, gift card, money, housecleaning
23.  offer rides
24.  offer to bring something needed
25.  offer to go with them to an appt
26.  pray with them, if they like that
27.  offer to sing them a healing song
28.  invite them to something
29.  offer to tell them a story of a predetermined length
30.  cry with them
31.  validate them
32.  give them a cheering zine or book
33.  tell them they can call you day or night
34.  research a local warmline number
35.  give them a small colorful art
36.  say “I love you”
37.  assume they’re understating their pain
38.  offer to take them to nature or just a park
39.  offer to braid their hair, paint their nails, hand massage
40.  draw them a picture
41.  write them a poem
42.  bring them a quote about how things change
43.  offer to play a game with them that they like
44.  be realistic about what you can offer
45.  don’t over-exert yourself
46.  offer to look together at their postcard collection, stamp collection, scrapbook
47.  ask them to dance with you
48.  offer to make something together: cookies, paper airplanes, jello
49.  offer to collaborate on a project like a zine or garden
50.  offer to play with playdough together or some other toy
51.  offer to blow bubbles
52.  offer to make art together
53.  offer to do a simple healing ritual together
54.  offer to meditate together, if they like that
55.  offer to walk, swim, or exercise together, if they can
56.  get consent, respect boundaries
57.  use your intuition as well as your everyday thinking
58.  get creative
59.  don’t blame
60.  offer to gratitude journal together
61.  research signs that someone wants to kill themself and watch for them
62.  offer something you have too much of or don’t need anymore
63.  invite them to visit a community you belong to
64.  invite them to volunteer with you
65.  ask them a question you’ve always wondered about
66.  brainstorm a list of ideas they might like
67.  offer to tell a joke
68.  ask them to help you with something possible and finite
69.  offer to bring over your pet, kid, Mom, or other liked being
70.  offer to read them something they’ve been wanting to read

Laura-Marie told her spouse there must be 100 ways to help a sad person and gave us 70 examples. Because I like a challenge (and a list) and I’ve been a sad person myself, I thought of an additional 30 ways to help.

#71 offer to clean their glasses (if they wear glasses)

#72 bring them bubble bath

#73 give space to be sad

#74 walk their dog for them

#75 put food in the freezer for later

#76 invite them to watch a funny, upbeat movie with you

#77 offer choices

#78 orchestrate the petting of puppies or kittens

#79 provide childcare if needed

#80 take them to an art museum with an upbeat exhibit

#81 take them to float in the water

#82 wrap a cold sad person in blankets

#83 give cheerful socks

#84 offer water to drink

#85 hug trees together

#86 mail postcards with pretty pictures to them

#87 give them lotion that smells really good

#88 tuck them into bed at night

#89 make the bed for them in the morning

#90 don’t be afraid to sit together in silence

#91 don’t try to fix things

#92 remember, a sad person is not broken

#93 give them a new journal and fun pens

#94 make them a song playlist with upbeat tunes

#95 play your musical instrument for them

#96 give a bright, handmade hat

#97 look at the stars together

#98 go to an ice cream shop together and try all the flavors

#99 offer to sleep over so they don’t have to be alone at night

#100 don’t be overwhelming

If you are a sad person, I hope this list gives you some ideas for self-care, as well as things to ask for when someone wants to know what they can do to support you. If you want to support someone who is struggling with sadness, I hope these suggestions assist you in your desire to do so. Please know that different people need different kinds of help at different times. Don’t expect every one of these suggestions to work for every sad person during every bout of sadness.

If you are feeling suicidal or you know someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1800-273- 8255 or check out the agency’s website for more information or to chat with a counselor. According to the website,

The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

Laura-Marie River Victor Peace is a radical mental health activist, peace activist, and writer. See her main blog at dangerouscompassions.blogspot.com See her zines at facebook.com/functionallyill.

About Blaize Sun

My name is Blaize Sun. Maybe that's the name my family gave me; maybe it's not. In any case, that's the name I'm using here and now. I've been a rubber tramp for nearly a decade.I like to see places I've never seen before, and I like to visit the places I love again and again. For most of my years on the road, my primary residence was my van. For almost half of the time I was a van dweller, I was going it alone. Now my (male) partner and I (a woman) have a travel trailer we can pull with our truck. We have a little piece of property, and when we're not traveling, we park our little camper there. I was a work camper in a remote National Forest recreation area on a mountain for four seasons. I was a camp host and parking lot attendant for two seasons and wrote a book about my experiences called Confessions of a Work Camper: Tales from the Woods. During the last two seasons as a work camper on that mountain, I was a clerk in a campground store. I'm also a house and pet sitter, and I pick up odd jobs when I can. I'm primarily a writer, but I also create beautiful little collages; hand make hemp jewelry and warm, colorful winter hats; and use my creative and artistic skills to decorate my life and brighten the lives of others. My goal (for my writing and my life) is to be real. I don't like fake, and I don't want to share fake. I want to share my authentic thoughts and feelings. I want to give others space and permission to share their authentic selves. Sometimes I think the best way to support others is to leave them alone and allow them to be. I am more than just a rubber tramp artist. I'm fat. I'm funny. I'm flawed. I try to be kind. I'm often grouchy. I am awed by the stars in the dark desert night. I hope my writing moves people. If my writing makes someone laugh or cry or feel angry or happy or troubled or comforted, I have done my job. If my writing makes someone think and question and try a little harder, I've done my job. If my writing opens a door for someone, changes a life, I have done my job well. I hope you enjoy my blog posts, my word and pictures, the work I've done to express myself in a way others will understand. I hope you appreciate the time and energy I put into each post. I hope you will click the like button each time you like what you have read. I hope you will share posts with the people in your life. I hope you'll leave a comment and share your authentic self with me and this blog's other readers. Thank you for reading.  A writer without readers is very sad indeed.

13 Responses »

  1. I’m OK with all of them except “hand them tissues if they’re crying.” That’s a no-no in my book; it says “I’ve got my act together more than you do.” Meanwhile, the person who is crying needs to work through it without interruption.

    • Thanks for making this point, Muriel. I always enjoy your insight and input.

      Personally, I am glad to be handed a tissue or hankie when I have tears and snot all over my face. (I am not tidy when I cry.) But I do understand what you are getting at.

      I guess part of helping a sad person is to think about what a particular person might want or need. When trying to help a sad stranger, it’s difficult to know what that person might want or need. I suppose when trying to help a stranger, we must accept that mistakes may be made.

  2. I want to add something that always makes me feel so much better. Change their sheets for them. Clean, fresh sheets can do a lot for me. Do their laundry while you are at it.

    Great post btw.

  3. I’m a regular reader of Laura Marie’s blog. I was pleasantly surprised you had updated the list. I’m more of an existential angst person than a sad person at the moment. Maybe you can come up with a list for people in existential angst. I will add the first to the list.

    1) read Victor Frankl

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