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How to talk to a friend when you're worried about their mental health

You don't need to be an expert to talk about mental health

Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health

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There are many simple ways to support someone who has a mental health difficulty. You don’t have to be a mental health expert to talk about mental health, as it’s often the little things like asking someone how they are which help the most.

How to talk to someone about their mental health

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want to talk to someone about how they're doing.

Don’t be afraid to ask someone how they are

If you think someone has been going through a difficult time ask them how they are or if there is anything you can do to help. They may not want to talk about it, but there is always the chance that they might just open up.

Ask how you can help

Ask them how they are and what you can do to support them during this difficult time. ‘what can I do to help?’, can often be all that is needed to start the conversation.

Avoid clichés

Try to avoid using phrases like ‘cheer up’ or ‘it will pass’ or ‘pull yourself together’ as they won’t help. It’s important to try and be non-judgmental. You may not understand what is going on for the person, but being there for them is important.

Think about your body language

Pay close attention to what they have to say, and ensure that your body language is open and inviting. Try to keep eye contact, and avoid fidgeting or looking at your watch. Don’t cross your arms as it gives off an unapproachable vibe.

You don’t just have to talk about mental health

Although the person may be going through a difficult time now, they still have interests outside of their mental health. Chat about everyday things or find out what they’re interested in, and talk about that.

Meet them where they’re at

Not everyone is comfortable talking face to face, and they may, in fact, prefer to talk with you on the phone or via text. Meet them at a space where they’re most comfortable at.

Don't be afraid of silence

Don’t be afraid of a little silence as it is often all that is needed for the person to open up and talk with you. If you feel that your friend is not comfortable lighten the atmosphere by playing some music or making them a cup of tea.

What to do if you're really concerned

If you are concerned that the person is feeling suicidal you can read more information on our factsheet help my friend is suicidal. If you feel your friend is suicidal it is important to talk to someone like a family member, teacher, or someone who can help and let them know your concerns. You may have to break your friend's trust on this, but it is extremely important that you do not keep this information to yourself, and that you tell someone in order to get your friend some help and support.

If you feel they are depressed you can read our factsheet on helping a friend with depression and read our advice on how to be a good listener.

What can I do if someone doesn’t want my help?

It can be difficult if you feel that someone you care about is in a bad place but won’t reach out for help or take the help that you have offered them. This can be frustrating for all involved but it’s important that you remember that there are limits to the help that you can offer. Remember that there is only so much you can do, and try not to beat yourself up about it. Be patient: it may take a while for them to open up and feel comfortable talking with you. Tell them that you are there for them when they are ready to seek help. If you are worried about the person, it may be time to contact a family member and tell them your concerns.

What can I do if it’s an emergency?

There may be times when your friend or family member needs to seek help urgently. They may be experiencing suicidal feelings, and feel that they may act on them. Or they may be at risk of harming themselves or others.

In this instance, it’s important that you help them seek medical help as soon as possible. You can accompany your friend to any hospital A&E department and ask for help. If you cannot make your way to a hospital, ring 999 or 112. Stay with them while you wait for emergency services to arrive, or go with them to the hospital for help. Read our fact sheet on suicide.

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Published Sep­tem­ber 29th2015
Tags mental health listening is helping
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