Help a Friend

Two teen girls talking on street

Help a Friend

Friends help each other out. But sometimes it is hard to know if someone needs help and even harder to know how to help them. How can you help a friend who is struggling with a mental illness? 

Learn the Signs

Learn the Signs

Your friend might not be holding up a “Help” sign, but there are some common signals that he or she might be struggling emotionally. 

Just a Bad Day? Or Something More?

Just a Bad Day? Or Something More?

Everybody has bad days and good days, different moods, and feelings. Managing life events, school, work, home, relationships, and family can be stressful at times. But, if a friend seems to be struggling a lot, it might be time for some professional help and emotional support. 

Is It an Emergency?

If you think your friend is in danger of hurting themself or hurting someone else, do not hesitate: Call 911.

A Friend Might Want Help If They're …

  • Overly anxious, fearful, stressed, or worried
  • Bored, apathetic, or unmotivated
  • Out of energy or tired all the time
  • Unable to slow down or sit still or overly energetic
  • Having a hard time managing their feelings or having extreme mood swings
  • Expressing thoughts or showing signs of hurting themself or others
  • Finding it especially difficult to cope with everyday challenges
  • Using drugs or alcohol in a way that is becoming a problem
  • Acting in ways that don’t make sense or seem out of the norm

How to Ask if a Friend Is Okay

Approaching and asking a friend about their mental health can be hard. "How are you feeling?" or "Is there anything you want to talk about?" are not always easy conversations to start. You can get stuck on a lot of "What ifs": "What if they don’t want me to ask?” "What if my question makes them uncomfortable?"  Don’t let these concerns hold you back. If you think asking will help, just do it. If you can, approach your friend in an open and non-judgmental manner. Need more ideas about how to ask? Check out How to ask a friend if they're okay.

You asked. Now what?

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 solutions. Still, it never hurts to say (or repeat) that you care. Share concern, but not panic or judgment.  

Try responding with one of the following:

  • How can I help? 
  • I care about you. Is there anything I can do to help you get through this?  (Consider offering one specific 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. 
  • Can I help you find someone who can help?
  • Can 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 who might also be able to support and help? 
  • Talk to someone who might be able to guide you? 
  • Learn more about mental health and wellness
  • Find information and resources to share with your friend? 

Follow Up 

  • Make a plan to talk again soon
  • Offer to run an errand 
  • Find information about mental health resources and providers to share
  • Touch base with others and create a support team
  • Talk to someone who can guide you 

Don't Go It Alone

Remember that no one expects you to solve all of your friend's 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. Check out Mental Health Info, Find Support, or We’re Here to Help below.

You are making a difference just by being there as a friend. 

More Resources

John Paul M. Reyes, PhD

People of all ages, including children, teens, and young adults, sometimes feel down, depressed, irritable, or sad. If these feelings last longer than 2 weeks and start to affect parts of daily life such as eating, sleeping, relationships, or school, a person may be experiencing depression.

Christa D. Labouliere, PhD

It can be very difficult to figure out if someone is at risk for suicide, and equally hard to know what to do. Educate yourself on the warning signs, and consider these suggestions and resources. 

We're Here to Help

Need help immediately? Call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Looking for a Therapist? Call (212)305-6001 or use the Find a Therapist tool.

Need contact info? Call 212-305-6001 or see our list of locations

Are you in crisis or is someone you know having thoughts of suicide? Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), click to chat, or text "HOME" to 741741.

In an abusive relationship? Call 1-866-331-9474 or text "loveis" to 22522.