A guide to supporting your friends' mental health
July 30, 2023

A guide to supporting your friends' mental health

We all want to be good friends to those we care about. That goes without saying. Most of the time, it’s relatively easy. We share laughter, talk through problems, and share our favourite pictures of cute animals.

But what about the other times when we know that a simple hug or cup of tea (or even a Labrador with the zoomies) isn’t going to be enough? For International Friendship Day, let’s look at how you can best support your friends’ mental health.

How to support your friends' mental health

These tips are by no means exhaustive, but they’re a good starting point when trying to support your friends.

Check-in with them

Let’s start with the basics. Reach out to friends who might be struggling and ask how they’re doing. Lots of people struggling with their mental health find it really difficult to reach out and ask for help. Why not offer before they have to ask?

The simple question of, “How are you doing?” shows them that you’re there for them and gives them permission to open up. Sometimes, that’s all they need.

Be open and listen

Being an incredible listener is an essential skill that anyone can learn. When your friend is talking about their mental health, give them your full attention.

Don’t worry about what you’re going to say or what advice you can offer. Instead, be fully present in the moment and focus entirely on trying to understand what they’re going through. Paraphrasing what they’ve told you can help them feel heard and understood.

While you’re listening, validate their feelings. Even if something would feel different to you, remember that their feelings are genuine and valid to them.

Don’t try to ‘fix’ them

One of the hardest things about mental health issues is that everyone seems to want to fix the problems you’re experiencing, and everyone has an opinion on what you need to do. Don’t be that person for your friend.

Of course, you can offer support and suggestions but don’t assume that you have all the answers. Your friend is the expert in what will and won’t help them. You can support them by respecting their expertise and boundaries.

Be there for them

Often, a friend who is experiencing mental health issues won’t want to talk about what they’re facing. That’s ok. You don’t need to push them to talk about what’s going on if that doesn’t feel right for them. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is just keep showing up.

Consider ways that you might be able to support them that don’t involve talking about their problems. If they’re feeling overwhelmed, bringing them a home-cooked meal or doing their dishes can make all the difference.

Reach out for more help if you need it

We’ve all heard the rule on planes about putting your own oxygen mask on before helping others and how it’s impossible to pour from an empty cup. The same is always true when supporting your friends with their mental health.

You should always look after yourself first and ask for help when you need it.

If you feel out of your depth supporting your friend, it’s important to reach out for more support from experts. Contact helplines, read articles, or offer to speak to their doctor on their behalf.

This is especially important if you’re afraid your friend will harm themselves. That’s not a burden you can (or should) carry alone.

Don’t ignore self-care

As well as reaching out for help from others, don’t forget your simple acts of self-care. Whether it’s going for a daily walk, journaling, or having a hot bath, self-care gives you the strength and resilience to take care of the people you care about.

How to support your colleagues' mental health

Encouraging your close friends and family to open up about their mental health is often easier than trying to help a colleague with theirs. Colleagues and work friends often feel a need to remain ‘professional’ at work, which can leave little space to discuss mental health difficulties.

We have a great blog post about supporting a colleague’s mental health without overstepping their boundaries, so make sure that you check that out. The most important skill is always showing that you’re open to discussing mental health. Once those conversations begin, focus on listening without judgement or preconceptions.

Let’s work together to support our friends, family, and colleagues

When it comes to the mental health and wellbeing of the people around us, we could all use a little more training. Why not take one of our mental health courses to improve your confidence and effectiveness?

And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter for regular helpful tips.

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