Talking about mental health with your friends: 4 phrases that can help
Many students have supported a friend who was struggling with their mental health. This can happen for lots of reasons, like:
- Mental health concerns are common
- Many students don’t know where to go for support
- Students often share concerns with a friend before they share them with an adult
Even though you want to help your friends, it’s not always easy to know what to do or say. We’ve put together some tips and information to help you learn more about how to deal with different situations.
Remember the 5 golden rules
If you’re supporting a friend with their mental health, the 5 Golden Rules from BeThere.org can help. Here’s what they look like.
- Say what you see: reach out when you notice something is different. Stick to the facts and avoid assumptions. Tell your friend the changes you’ve noticed, let them know you’re concerned, and ask if they’re okay.
- Show you care: don’t assume you know what your friend needs or what is best for them. Ask them! Create a safe environment by being inclusive, helpful, compassionate, and a good listener.
- Hear them out: open up space for them to speak. Ask follow up questions and validate how they’re feeling. If your friend doesn’t want to talk, let them know you’ll continue to be there, if they change their mind.
- Know your role: your role is to be there and listen, not to fix things. Set boundaries to help protect your friendship and your own mental health.
- Connect to help: offer support to help your friend find resources, get help, and know what to expect. If a friend doesn’t ‘click’ with the first support, encourage them to keep trying!
Know the difference between secrecy and privacy
There are many things you can do to support a friend with a mental health concern, but it’s important that you know you don’t have to do it alone. Sometimes we need extra help for our friends, and that can involve sharing a concern about a friend with someone else. This can feel very personal, and you may worry about breaking a friend’s trust. But there are important differences between secrecy and privacy.
- Secrecy involves not telling anyone information, even people who need it.
- Respecting privacy means sharing only the information needed and only with those who need it to help someone or keep them safe.
If you notice a change in a friend’s behaviour that is intense, long-lasting, and having a big impact on their day-to-day life, your friend might be dealing with more than the usual ups and downs of life and may need some extra support. Speak to a caring adult, such as a teacher, parent/caregiver, relative, principal, coach, faith leader, elder, or your family doctor, or call or text Kids Help Phone to discuss next steps. And if your friend says or does something that makes you worry about their safety or the safety of anyone else, let someone know right away, even if your friend asks you not to. If someone is in crisis, the best way to be a good friend is by getting them the help that they need.
4 phrases to help you bring up mental health with a friend
As you support your friend with their mental health, here are four phrases that can help:
- “Hey, I’ve noticed __[explain what you have seen]____. How is it going? You doing alright?”
- “I’m here for you. What can I do to help?”
- “I care about you too much not to tell someone.”
- “This is too big for the two of us. We need extra help.”
Resources to help
For more ideas about what to say, check out these conversation starters.
For more ideas about supports and how to connect, check out: