be there for… a friend
oftentimes we’ve noticed a change in our friend that we want to address, but don’t know how
letting your friends know you care
When you have a friend and you’re concerned about their mental health, sometimes its difficult to know what to do next. What do we say? How do we say it? What do we do it it doesn’t go well the first time?
These are all questions we may find ourselves asking when considering approaching a friend. It’s important to go into the conversation prepared and come out of it knowing how to support not only our friend, but ourselves too.
questions you can ask
“I’ve noticed you haven’t been acting like yourself lately. I’m worried about you, is something going on?”
What are you experiencing? What does it feel like?
Can I help you find someone to see about your concerns?
Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?
“Do you want me to walk with you to the counseling center?
“What can I do to help?”
how to have the conversation
Pick a place you both feel safe
Talking about your concerns can be uncomfortable for both people. Pick a place where you both feel safe, but emphasize your friend’s comfort. If possible, let them decide where to meet. It should be a place where they feel on equal footing with you. Privacy is essential.
Make sure you have plenty of time
Pick a time with flexibility. The conversation may be short, but just in case, make sure neither of you have anywhere to be immediately. You don’t want to have to stop the conversation.
You and several other people may be concerned about your friend, but approaching them one-on-one is the best practice. It prevents your friend from feeling overwhelmed and attacked.
Use “I” statements
“I” statements are a critical tool when broaching any delicate topic with a friend. These statements help you express your concern and own your own feelings without seeming judgmental. They encourage conversation and problem-solving. Here are some examples:
You can formulate an “I” statement by describing your feelings in relationship to the changes you’ve noticed and suggesting action steps.
- I feel [emotion]
- When [action or behavior]
- Because [reason you feel the named emotion]
- I’m wondering if [action step]
- I feel concerned when you can’t get out of bed because I care about you. I’m wondering if talking to a counselor might help.
Summarize and paraphrase
Active listening helps you avoid making assumptions. Summarizing and re-phrasing what your friend is saying allows you to ensure you are following correctly and signal that you’re seeking to truly understand what they’re going through. This also provides your friend the opportunity to clarify if you’re not fully understanding what they’re saying.
Ask open-ended questions
Asking open-ended questions is a thing we all think we do really well, but almost none of us do. Yes or no questions not only give you a paltry amount of information, but they make assumptions about what your friend is thinking or feeling. Ask questions that require a “short answer” instead of a true or false.
Recognize you don’t exactly understand
Even if you have struggled with similar circumstances or feelings in the past, you will never understand exactly what your friend is going through. Remind yourself and your friend of this. There will be aspects of their situation or illness that you will be able to relate to, but invite them to be honest with you about what their journey is like and how you can help.
Reinforce your love
Let your friend know you are there to support them. Tell them while you may not entirely understand, you want to help because you care for them. Your friend may fear you will leave them, so acknowledge your commitment to them.
Expect to not always know what to say or how to help
It can be difficult to know how to respond, and sometimes we don’t know how to help. This is completely normal. You can never go wrong with offering affirmations, such as…
- You’ve made me a better person.
- I’m so proud of you.
- I appreciate how thoughtful and caring you are.
- You are worthy of life, love, and happiness.
- I’m so thankful you’re in my life.
Know your resources
Whether it’s the first conversation or the fifth, be prepared to give your friend some resources to check out. Once you’ve had the conversation, your friend may want you to be with them when they call or take them to their first appointment.
The “S” Word: Talking about suicide will not give someone thoughts they did not already have. Rather, it will let your friend know you are there for them and are open for any and all conversation. You will then be a source of support if things become difficult in the future.
take care of yourself, too
Know you are doing the right thing
Your friends are lucky to have you looking out for them. But sometimes distress keeps them from appreciating you. Be prepared to be met with anger, denial and/or rejection. Know that you’re doing the right thing, and their reaction isn’t about you.
Ensure you have your own support system
Have your own support network. Helping a friend through a tough time can be hard on the helpers, too. Make sure you are looking after your own physical and mental health. Whatever it is that keeps you centered and boosts your mood and energy, keep it going. These are things that you can’t sacrifice! See the Be There For… Myself page for some tips.