I was at Victoria coach station in London a few months back and a woman out of nowhere started crying in front of me. She had just got off of the phone and was visibly shaken up, she just kind of sat against the wall and held her head between her legs (from what I gathered from the situation she wasn't a harm to herself or others, she was what seemed to be very upset at the particular phone call she just had). Unfortunately, I wasn't fast enough to help. A woman went up to her and consoled her before me (I'm not quite sure what the dialogue was).

With friends, I can handle a situation such as this. I know they're comfortable enough with me to give them a hug and try to calm them down, but with a total stranger I wouldn't know how to approach it, but I do want to help them, I'd feel really bad just leaving them to cry.

So how should I react in a situation such as this?


4 Answers 4


Well, if someone got to her first, that is okay. You will not always react as quickly as others and the fact you wanted to be of help shows solid character.

It appears to me you are a man, and as such, it may also cause you more hesitation to approach a woman crying for unknown reasons. It is hard to know how you will be perceived. It is generally always safe to give someone adequate distance for personal space while asking if they are in need of assistance. Only do this though if you intend to actually try to assist.

Also be aware that sometimes you end up dragged into a messy drama that is none of your business and you may end up regretting. I have had the unfortunate experience several times to find that happen.

On one occasion I stopped to assist a driver who had gone off the road on my way to work. I am in the states and here we have no obligation to do so. I saw it was a woman alone though and didn't want to leave her there. It became apparent soon after I made a terrible mistake and should have called help instead. She didn't want the police called, she had no license, she tried to insist I give her ride elsewhere and leave the car (illegal), etc.

So yes, I do still try if I see someone in need and I also thank my lucky stars if someone else gets there first. It might be someone I really would love to help, or it might be like the lady wanting me to assist her in breaking the law and begging my help after insisting didn't work and making me late for work all in the process.

  • 1
    I once saw a guy sitting on the side of the road with grief written all over his face. I bought him a coke and said "I'm sorry". I didn't talk more or do anything else, after that I went on with my day. I don't think it's necessary to help more than that or to get into drama. Sometimes its a matter of noticing someone and their grief and acknowledging them from one human to another.
    – user2929
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 20:32
  • 1
    I don't willingly enter into drama, but it can happen anyway. Imagine instead you bought that for a lady with a jealous partner who happened up as you handed her the drink. There you go. Drama you never intended can always happen when you opt to engage someone you don't know who is upset for reasons you don't know. When we were younger, a male friend was out with us in a large group out of state on a "fun" weekend. While we were out bar hopping a lady was seated crying on curb. He went to ask if she was okay & the scenario I just mentioned happened. Her boyfriend hit him.
    – threetimes
    Commented Aug 17, 2017 at 21:49

Perhaps the best way to approach this problem is by first asking yourself, how would you like a stranger to react if you were crying in a similar context?

Personally, I wouldn't mind if a stranger approached me and kindly asked what's wrong. Regardless of the reason I was crying, I would still appreciate the fact that someone cared enough to ask, and that would bring me great comfort.

  • While this is generally good advice, in this case I think its very dangerous. Often what we would want is very different from what someone else would want in the same situation. Commented Sep 1, 2017 at 15:28

Depends on the situation and how you are able to cope with that.

First two important questions:
Are you in an area where people are expected to pass through intermittently, but is deserted the most time?
Are you outside immediate help?

Examples: staircase, parking deck, a road at night. If you answer both questions with Yes and encounter such a person, be very cautious, it could be setup.

If you see or met another person before loitering around for no discernible reasons, it is to 99% a setup. Do not approach, leave the area immediately and hold your mobile ready.

But if you think it is genuine, you can simply ask "Is everything ok/all right?"

Person reacts negatively.
The person moves away from you, turn away their head, shakes their head surly. Then the person knows you are there, but do not want your help and would not appreciate it. Leave.

Person does not react at all or is acting strangely.
Even if you speak louder or carefully touch them on the shoulder, there is no reaction. Or the reaction is quite unnerving: The person seems to be disoriented or acts out of order. In this case which looks like a complete breakdown call the ambulance or ask another person to do that for you. It seems professional help is necessary.

Person reacts neutrally or positively.
So the person knows that you are there and is either observant because (s)he is ashamed or afraid to ask for help or directly invites you to help and listen.

Now it depends on how good you are socially. If you are not so good, simply offer to call help. If you believe you can handle this, speak quietly, simply hold the person (if it is welcomed) and listen attentively. Unfortunately, you will now hear a very sad and stirring story, expect that your clothes will get a little wet. Simply listen and do not try to solve the problem, the person most likely only need someone to vent their grief and frustration and order their thoughts. Normally people are quieting down after a while and get more and more responsive and clear about their situation. They will tell you then if they need some professional help or simply be very thankful and leave you.

  • It is so sad - but true - that the first sentences are important.
    – RedSonja
    Commented Aug 31, 2017 at 8:29

I organise beer fests so when tidying up at 2 a.m. (we call it disposing of the bodies) it's not unusual to find a grown person in a state of distress. Of course if it's a medicinal problem you call the emergency services, but if it's just sadness this is what I do in steps:

"Oh dear, what's wrong? Is there some way I can help?"

Provide handkerchief. Pat carefully on back (you never know with alcohol). Don't touch anywhere else.

"Is there someone I can call?" "Are your friends nearby?"

"Can I get you a taxi?" (I have even paid for taxis for broke persons.)

Sits down: "Tell me about it."

It doesn't usually get to the last step but if it does you just have to invest 10 minutes of your life to make someone else's better.

The world being the way it is: do not take them into your own car or house. Sorry bout that.

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