Help a friend with a mental health concern

60 percent of Cougs say they want more information on how to help a friend in distress. While people can struggle for many reasons, it’s possible someone you care about will experience distress due to a mental health concern.

Stigma around mental health can cause people to hide their problem or prevent them from getting help. But talking about mental health can help overcome negative attitudes and encourage people to get help when they need it.

The best thing you can do for someone going through a mental health problem is to assure them of your support. If you have a friend with a mental health concern, try using empathy and active listening the next time you’re talking mental health.

Empathy

Empathy is about perspective taking – trying to understand what someone else is going through from their perspective. Even if you haven’t personally experienced what your friend is going through, you can still express empathy.

When someone shares about a mental health problem, don’t feel like you have to give advice or know the perfect answer. Instead, try to acknowledge their emotions and listen non-judgmentally to what they share.

Active listening

When someone shares about a mental health problem, try to listen carefully, then paraphrase what they say back to them. You can also ask clarifying questions to help you better understand what they’re going through.

One of the best ways to develop active listening skills is to ask yourself, “What would I have wanted someone to say to me during a time when I was struggling or experiencing a crisis?” It’s likely you didn’t want advice or suggestions about what to do. More than anything, you probably wanted support and assurance that you weren’t alone.

Let’s put empathy and active listening into practice. Here are some comparisons of helpful and unhelpful things to say to someone struggling with a mental health concern.

HelpfulUnhelpful
“It sounds like you’re feeling frustrated and hopeless.”Talking too much about yourself: “I know exactly how you feel!”
“What has been helpful to you in the past when you struggled?”“You just need to…”
“This sounds like a challenging time. How can I be the best help to you now?”Relying too much on reassuring: “Everything is going to be okay… you’ll get over it!”
“I don’t know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.”Not saying anything at all because you don’t know what to say.
Offer resources for support and let them decide if and when to access them. Not offering support or resources.

When you’re talking with someone about their mental health, remember that pauses and brief silences are okay. Sometimes people who are going through something need time to reflect and gather their thoughts.

Do you want to learn more about supporting someone who’s experiencing a mental health crisis? Sign up for our Mental Health First Aid class or suicide prevention training, Campus Connect.