V-A-R: Validate, Appreciate, Refer

Active Minds’ everyday guide for everyday challenges

Looking back, was there a time when things were difficult and someone reached out to you, just when you needed them most? Conversations can be life-changing. It’s not about knowing exactly what to say, it’s about being there. Asking someone you care about how they are doing — like really doing — is so important. “You good?” is helpful reminder to engage in meaningful conversations.

Today, we challenge you to check in on someone you care about. It can be as simple as asking, “You Good?” Once the conversation is open, be ready to offer support and V-A-R: Validate, Appreciate, and Refer. Learn more about how to help a friend using V-A-R below.

What is V-A-R?

V-A-R is Active Minds’ everyday guide for everyday challenges. It’s about showing up for one another in our everyday struggles.

Validate, Appreciate, Refer® are three easy-to-use steps that provide a path to listening and responding in a helpful way.

V-A-R conversations can take many forms — phone, in-person, text message, video call. No matter the format, what matters most is being there and showing that you care.

Why V-A-R?

A conversation can be life changing. Feeling seen and heard can make all the difference in the world. Feeling supported may be exactly what someone needs.

It can be challenging, though, to know exactly what to say when someone tells you they are stressed, having a difficult day, or struggling with their mental health.

V-A-R helps us know what to say in those moments. A conversation that includes the elements of Validate, Appreciate, Refer is one that allows you to actively listen to someone you care about and support them in meaningful ways.

A conversation with you could make all the difference and prevent a crisis from developing later.

With V-A-R, Active Minds lets everyone know that someone doesn’t need to be in a crisis to seek help; you don’t have to be an expert to provide help; and help can come in many different forms. Being there for someone in a moment of need is what it’s all about.

It can be really challenging to know what to say or how to respond to someone when they confide in you. Having a roadmap like V-A-R makes it easier to focus on helping the other person rather than worrying about saying the ‘right’ thing.

Remi Larson

V-A-R in brief

Below is a brief overview of V-A-R. Use this as a guide to listen in a way that let’s the person know they’re being heard and they’re not alone. (You don’t have to do the steps in order).

To learn more, see the 3 V-A-R Steps page. You can also keep these steps handy by downloading the V-A-R Wallet Card.

1. Validate their feelings

Let them know what they’re feeling is okay and that you believe them. Validation sounds like…

  • “That makes sense.”
  • “That sounds difficult.”
  • “I’m sorry you are struggling right now.”

2. Appreciate their courage

Speaking up can be a challenging step — let them know it’s a good one. Also show you’re there to support them. Affirmation sounds like…

  • “Thank you for sharing.”
  • “It can be difficult to share sometimes. I’m glad you chose to speak up.”
  • “It helps to know what you’re going through.”

3. Refer them to skills and support

Let them know help is available and refer them to appropriate resources. Refer sounds like…

  • “What do you do for self-care?”
  • “How does some fresh air sound?”
  • “Do you think it would be helpful to talk to someone? I can stay with you while we call or text a hotline.”

Just three simple steps. But it means so much.

An example of V-A-R in action

In this real-life example, Remi recognized that there might be more to their roommate’s story:

My roommate was stressed about midterms and was having trouble sleeping and concentrating. He came home one day frustrated by the response he had received after confiding in his friends. 

They had told him things like: ‘You’re in college, we’re all stressed,’ ‘That’s just midterms,’ and ‘You’ll get over it.’

He didn’t feel like his friends were really listening or that they understood the extent of his anxiety. It wasn’t just about exams.

Remi’s subsequent response to their roommate shows V-A-R in action.

They first validated his feelings: “That sounds really difficult. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed and stressed, especially during exams.”

They then appreciated his courage: “I’m glad you shared this with me — I know it isn’t always easy.”

Finally, they referred him to appropriate skills and support: “It might be helpful to talk to someone about how you’re feeling and what’s keeping your mind racing.” and “Have you tried engaging in some self-care activities? I know exercise usually helps you relax. Have you been to the gym lately?”

When to use V-A-R

Here are some things you might hear a friend, family member, or colleague say that suggests they may need support. Consider these to be an opening to having a fuller conversation. Respond with the V-A-R steps in mind — Validate-Appreciate-Refer.

  • “I’m just having a hard time lately.”
  • “It’s hard to get going with my day sometimes.”
  • “I’m really stressed out.”
  • “It’s just so hard to cope with everything.”
  • “I’ve been feeling really anxious lately.”
  • “I’m so exhausted.”
  • “I have too much going on.”
  • “I’m feeling really overwhelmed.”

If you hear a friend mention the word suicide or suggest they are considering hurting themselves (for example, suggesting they want to end it all), it’s critical to help them seek professional help. See our Signs and Symptoms page for more information.

V-A-R is for non-crisis situations

V-A-R is a guide to how to respond to everyday troubles in a helpful way. For many situations, you don’t have to be an expert to help – you just have to be there. Have a conversation to let someone know, I’m here for you, and then refer them to additional sources of support.

For crisis situations, see the Crisis Information: Get Help Now page.

If you are worried that someone may be considering suicide, find support immediately by texting “BRAVE” to 741-741. Stay with them until they are safe.