Tips for Asking a Friend About Their Mental Health
Expressing concern to a friend about his or her mental well-being can take courage. It also takes empathy. You may want to consider these questions:
- How long have you known the person you are asking?
- Is the person a close friend?
- What do you already know about them and what they are currently experiencing?
- How might you approach a friend so that both of you feel comfortable?
- Are you concerned about their or your own safety? (If the answer is "Yes," do not handle this on your own. Bring this to the attention of a counselor, a supervisor, a mental health professional, or call or text a crisis hotline.)
Thinking about these questions will help you phrase your own questions and response. For example, processing and replying to: “I just found out my father has cancer” will be different than your response to: “I suck. I’m not good enough. Nobody wants me around anyway.” Keep in mind that their answer may be, "Everything's fine" even if you're pretty sure that it is not.
Aim for supportive and non-judgmental questions
- How are you feeling?
- I’ve noticed you ______ . How are you feeling?
- How would you like things to be different?
- I know ________. (Acknowledge something that is happening in their life.) Anything you want to talk about?
Really listen to what your friend has to say. If they are having a tough time and are willing to share, they want to be heard. Show that you're listening by repeating back some of what they are telling you. For example, "So, you feel that ..." or "It sounds like you ...." Acknowledge their feelings. It never hurts to say (or repeat) that you care. Share concern, but not panic or judgment.
What If They Don't Want to Talk?
What if a friend doesn't want to talk or says everything's fine when you're pretty sure it's not? Remind them that you are there for them when and if they need support. Be patient. But, if you are worried about their own safety, let them know and encourage them to seek professional help or call or text a mental health support line.
You have asked how your friend is doing. Now, it is time to respond. But how? Problems are not one-size-fits-all and neither are answers. What you say depends on the situation and what you think your friend can handle. Some basic guidelines are: Reiterate that you care; share your concern, but not judgment; do not diminish your friend's problems; let them know your ideas for finding more help and support. Think about these "next step" questions:
- How can I help?
- I care about you. Is there anything I can do to help you get through this? (If the answer is “no,” consider offering one way in which you think you can help, even if it is something simple.)
- I’m concerned about you, but I’m not sure what to do. Let’s talk to someone about this.
- May I help you find someone who can help?
- May I call you tomorrow? (Next week, etc.)
Consider How You Can Help
Ask yourself how (and if) you are able to best help. You will help your friend most if you do what you can handle. Can you:
- Check in with your friend again soon?
- Offer to run an errand or help with something until they are feeling better?
- Touch base with others and create a support team?
- Talk to someone who can guide you?
- Learn more about mental health and wellness?
- Find information and resources to share with your friend?
Don't Go it Alone
Remember that no one expects you to solve all of your friends’ problems. Just because you are a trusted friend does not mean you are a therapist or that you (or your friend) should go it alone.
There is help out there! Reach out to others who can offer support, such as other friends and family; school counselors, coaches, or teachers; faith-based or community leaders. If you know a friend through work, many workplaces have confidential employee assistance programs that are specifically meant to help with personal and/or work-related problems. If you are not sure who can help or where to turn, try this list of mental health hotlines.
You can and do make a big difference just by being there as a friend.