Helping a friend who's having a tough time
When you see a friend 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 easy, especially when you don’t know what kind of help you can offer. It can make a big difference to someone experiencing difficulties.
It can be as simple as checking in, letting them know that you care and that you’re there to help them. Let your friend know what changes you’ve noticed that you’re worried about and that you’d like to help.
Even if they don’t open up much at first, simply showing you have their back can give your friend strength and hope. This also tells them that you’re someone they can talk to if they do decide to open up later on.
Take a look at the information below and download our fact sheet.
What if my friend doesn't want any help?
Some friends need time and space before they feel ready to get support. Being afraid of things changing or being judged, can be a big factor in why people don’t seek support when they need it.
You may need to be patient with your friend and try to not judge them or get frustrated if you can’t get through to them at first. Remind them that you are there if they need you. 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, especially if they don’t want help. You might be worried they may 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.
What can I say to help my friend with their mental health?
It’s important to encourage your friend to get further 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’s best for you.’
- ‘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 or youthbeyondblue?’
- ‘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 to have your back.’ Make sure you validate your friend’s concern and let them know they’re not alone.
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’re feeling overwhelmed and need support for you, it might be a good time to reach out for extra help. A good place to start is a trusted adult (e.g., family member, teacher or GP). You can also contact Kids Helpine.
The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website.
1 October 2018