Helping a friend who's having a tough time
If you think your friend is having a tough time, it’s a good idea to reach out and offer support. You might have noticed they don’t seem like themselves, or they’re not acting the way they normally do. Finding the words to start a conversation isn’t always easy, especially when you don’t know what kind of help you can offer. But it can make a big difference to the person experiencing difficulties.
It can be as simple as checking in, letting them know that you care and that you’re there to help them. Even if they don’t open up much at first, showing them you have their back can give your friend strength and hope. This also lets them know you’re someone they can talk to if they do decide to open up later on.
What if my friend doesn't want any help?
For many people, the process of reaching out for support can be really difficult. Some friends might need time and space before they feel ready to get support.
You may need to be patient with your friend. Don’t judge them or get frustrated if they don’t take you up on your offer of support. Remind them that you are there if they need you and give them time.
Sometimes you might need to involve someone else – this may be a trusted adult. If you do decide to tell someone, try to let your friend know that you’re planning on doing this first and encourage them to get involved in the discussion.
Letting someone else know can be a difficult decision to make, you might be worried your friend might lose trust in you. There’s a chance your friend might feel like this at first but remind them it’s only because you care. In the long run, they will usually understand why you got someone else involved.
If your friend is at risk of harming themselves or somebody else, you need to seek help straight away, even if they ask you not to. If your friend needs urgent help you can call 000. You could also ask someone you trust, such as a parent or teacher for help.
How can I help my friend?
It can be hard to know how to start the conversation, sometimes it can be as simple as, ‘are you doing OK? I’ve notice we haven’t been in contact as much recently’ – or mention what you have noticed that’s different.
Some things to help you plan:
- Are you in a good headspace and ready to have the chat?
- Have you had a look across the headspace website to try and understand what might be going on for them?
- Have you got enough time, and are free from distractions?
- Have you chosen somewhere private?
- Have you found a time that’s good for them to chat?
What can I say?
If it looks like your friend would benefit from additional support,, you can say things like:
- ‘Have you talked to anyone else about this? It’s great you’ve talked to me, but it might be good to get advice and support from a health worker.’
- ‘It doesn’t have to be super intense and you can make choices about what you want to talk about.’
- ‘Your GP can actually help you with this stuff. You can find one that bulk bills, so you don’t have to pay. I can go along with you, if you want?’
- ‘There are some great websites you can check out to get more information. Have you heard of headspace or ReachOut?’
- ‘Did you know that you can get free and confidential support online or over the phone from places like eheadspace, Kids Helpline and Lifeline? All of these services are anonymous and can help you figure out what’s going on for you and where to go for the right support.’
- ‘I know you’re not feeling great now, but with the right support, you can get through this. Lots of people do.’
- ‘It’s OK to feel this way and I’m here and have your back.’ Make sure you validate your friend’s concern and let them know they’re not alone.
What else can I do?
- Actively listen by repeating things back to them in your own words
- Listen and don’t interrupt
- Acknowledge that it sounds like things are tough for them
- Use your body language – try to be open and receptive
Looking after yourself
Supporting a friend through a tough time can be difficult, so it’s important that you take care of yourself, too. You can check out our tips for a healthy headspace to look after your own wellbeing and build your mental fitness every day.
Try to remember that you’re their friend and not their counsellor. Be realistic about what you can and can’t do. Set boundaries for yourself to make sure that you’re doing the best thing for yourself, your friend and the friendship.
If you need support, it might be a good idea to reach out for extra help. A good place to start is a trusted adult (e.g., family member, an Elder, teacher or GP).
You can also contact a headspace Centre or eheadspace if you would prefer to chat to someone online or over the phone.
Additional youth services include:
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
SANE Australia: 1800 187 263
The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.
Last reviewed 25 January 2023