How To Support a Friend Who Is Struggling With Their Mental Health

How To Support a Friend Who Is Struggling With Their Mental Health

May 01, 2021

How To Support a Friend Who Is Struggling With Their Mental Health


According to the World Health Organization, around one in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.


As a friend, you want to make sure your close companions feel well, both mentally and physically. Individuals struggling with their mental health often confide in their friends first. If you don't have experience with mental illness, it can be hard to know what to say or do in these situations. As a confidant, you need to know how to listen, advise, approach sensitive subjects, and seek external help without losing your friend's trust. 


Our blog ''Why Is It Important For Men To Talk About Their Mental Health?'' discusses why men find it hard to talk about their mental health and why staying silent is a problem. 


Today, in this blog, we will look at how to help a friend if you suspect they are struggling with their mental health. Below is some guidance we hope you will find helpful.

  1. Listen


The first and most crucial step is to listen to your friend. Too often, we find ourselves zoning out of a conversation or thinking about what we will say next. 


At this moment in time, your friend needs your ears. Don't interrupt, and let them lay all their cards on the table. It's a huge step for them to articulate their problems or experiences; make sure to give them the time they need to let it out into the world. 


  1. Validate 


After listening to your friend, you need to make sure they know that what they're saying is heard, understood and accepted. 


Men, in particular, don't speak out about their problems due to Toxic Masculinity. They often are deterred from sharing their struggles as they have been nurtured to believe that feeling anything less than OK is ''wrong''. They are scared to be seen as weak and can be embarrassed to talk about their problems. 


By letting your friend know that their thoughts are valid, you encourage further conversation which will help, and in time, lighten their load. 


  1. Ask 


Asking does not mean prying. Do not interrogate your friend, but ask simple questions in a calm, relaxed tone. If you feel like they are getting stressed or anxious over your questions, then it is time to stop. 


A great way to ask questions is by making sure they are open rather than targetted. For example, try asking "how are you today?" rather than "are you feeling better about _____ today?"


Another great way to ensure you are in line with your friend's needs is to ask, "how can I help?", this shifts the weight onto you whilst allowing your friend to feel the maximum benefit of your care. 


  1. Understand Limits


Those struggling with their mental health will often cancel plans and deny invitations. That's OK and is not a reflection on you. They need to take time for themselves, and it's important to let them have the space they need. Of course, continue to invite them, so they know the offer is there whenever they're ready. 

  1. Keep it Close 


Don't divulge any of the problems your friend has discussed with you to anyone else unless it has been OK'd by them first. Gossip can make the problem worse and build mistrust between you and your friend. 


If your friend's mental health problems begin to affect your own, and in turn, you need an outlet, speak to a close confidant who does not know the other person, or get in touch with the Samaritans USA for guidance. 


  1. Know When To Change the Subject 


Although it is essential to talk about mental health, it's helpful to switch the conversation when the topic is lingering or becoming overbearing. 


Different subjects provide a healthy distraction from problems your friend is facing and can help relax the mind. 


  1. Advise External Help 


Although your intentions are no doubt correct, and conversing with and supporting your friend is very helpful, you are not a mental health professional. 


If your concerns are increasing, or your friend is expressing thoughts of suicide or showcasing symptoms of Psychosis, they must seek professional help. Ask them to speak to an anonymous help group online or arrange an appointment with a therapist. If they refuse to go, suggest they talk to another close friend or family member about their struggles. The more people they speak to, the more likely they will eventually seek professional help. 


Note - If you believe your friend is going to harm themselves or someone else, you must act with or without their consent. Call the Samaritans USA for any advice or guidance on how to handle this. 


  1. Don't Feel Guilty 


You should not let your friend's problems make you feel guilty if your life is going well and you feel happy. It's important to know that although you want to help your friend, dampening your mental state will not make them better. By aiming to lift your friend, you should not lower yourself in the process. 


  1. Remember Self-Care 


It's essential to look after your mental health as well as your friends. Take time away from your friend to destress and relax and focus on your needs. Remember that you are never solely responsible for another person's mental health.


Important: If a friend (or romantic partner) is threatening to hurt themselves or hurt you because of something that you have done, you must immediately seek outside, professional help. There is nothing you can do to lighten the situation, and it is not your responsibility to do so. Do not 'stay with' or 'ignore' these remarks to diffuse the situation. 


Mental Health America provides lots of information on topics like these, and offer ways to find help for yourself or someone else.