Being a good friend doesn’t require an instruction manual, and you don't need to be a professional to notice that someone might need additional support. If you’re concerned about someone in your life, just ask.
Don’t worry about finding the perfect words to say; just be there and let them know they have your support. Having a conversation about mental health might be uncomfortable, but it can make all the difference.
Here are some tools that can help you help those in need...
Learn the Signs
Concerned about a friend?
If you aren't certain if someone you care about is displaying worrisome signs regarding their mental health, here are a few signs to look for:
They don’t feel like hanging out as much
Their mind seems to be somewhere else
They are so anxious they can’t relax
They’ve gotten negative about life
They’re not acting like themselves
They’re more irritable than usual
They are taking more risks than usual
They talk about feeling hopeless
They’re taking drugs or drinking more
They’re harming themselves
Notice the warning signs online
While you might hang out with your friends a lot, the reality is that you're not always physically with them. While texting, group chats, and DMs can be common forms of keeping in touch, they don't always reveal body language or tone that you would typically see in person. So how do you know if something is off?
Keep an eye out for these signs online that could indicate your friend is struggling with their mental health:
Posting captions, hashtags, or emojis that are overtly sad or negative, going beyond sarcastic jokes.
Liking posts or following accounts that promote negative behaviors, even if they aren’t sharing it to their feeds.
Writing posts or comments that show impulsive behavior, irritability, hostility, or indicate insomnia.
Whether it’s on social media, in group chats, or in person – if you suspect your friend is struggling, trust your gut.
Start a Conversation
Whatever gets you talking...
Opening the door to begin a conversation can really help. Not sure where to start? Try one of these opening lines to help make starting the conversation easier.
Seems like something’s up. Do you wanna talk about what’s going on?
I’ve noticed that you’ve been down lately. What’s going on?
Hey, we haven’t talked in a while. How are you?
Are you okay? You don’t seem like yourself lately.
I know you’re going through some stuff. I’m here for you if you wanna talk about it.
No matter what you’re going through, I’ve got your back.
This is awkward, but I’d like to know if you’re really all right.
I haven’t heard you laugh in a while. Is everything okay?
I’m worried about you and would like to know what’s up so I can help.
Is there anything you want to talk about?
Hey, you seemed frustrated today. I’m here for you. Want a hug? Or a chat?
Hey, where have you been? Missed you at practice.
Are you okay? I noticed you’ve missed class a few times.
I feel like something’s up. Can you share with me?
Your face is telling me that you could use a good talk.
You know you can tell me anything. I won’t judge.
Listen, you’re my friend, and I just want to know how you’re feeling.
Whenever you’re ready to talk, I’m ready to listen.
I know life can be overwhelming sometimes. So if you need to talk, I’m here.
Find a moment to talk
Beginning the conversation doesn’t mean you have to dive straight into talking about mental health struggles or have an intense heart to heart.
Consider instead meeting them where they are or extending an invitation to hang out. You can even talk about struggles you are going through to give your friend an avenue to open up. Whether it's over a bite to eat or taking a walk, a simple “what’s up” is a great place to begin.
Need some ideas of how to start the conversation? Try one of these:
Ask a friend to play a pick-up game of your favorite sport.
Casually ask while playing an online game together.
Invite them to grab food after class.
Ask “what’s up” in a DM or text.
Have a shared hobby? Use that activity as an opportunity to check in.
Invite them to go on a walk or take a drive around the neighborhood.
During the Conversation
What to say
When approaching a friend who might be struggling emotionally, it’s important to be patient, open-minded and supportive. You may not understand, but you can listen and be there for them.
Here are some things you can say:
"You aren't alone." Your friend may see asking for help as a sign of weakness. It can help to remind them that we all go through tough times, by sharing something you’re struggling with now or talking about a time when you needed support and how that helped you.
"You can feel better." Help your friend see that reaching out for support is the first step to feeling better. When we’re struggling, it’s common to feel like no one can really help us. The good news is, most mental health challenges can be overcome, managed, or treated.
"I'm here for you." People who are struggling might not proactively ask for support. Some good approaches to being what they need are “You’ve been there for me so many times, how can I be there for you now?” or “I’m always just a phone call away”.
You can also use these tips to help make it easier to have a conversation about mental health:
Keep it casual. Think of it as a chat, not a therapy session.
Listen up. Let them take the lead.
Avoid offering advice or trying to fix their problems.
Let them know it’s okay to feel the way they do.
Make yourself available. Be the friend they can rely on.
Ask open-ended questions. Help them to talk, not just say “yes” or “no.”
Let them open up at their own speed.
Don’t demand answers or force them to say anything they’re not ready to.
Encourage them to talk to an expert.
Tell them you won’t ever judge them (and mean it!).
Let them know that this won’t change how you feel about them.
Ask if they’ve seen a doctor.
For a little more help, here is some advice on how to navigate common scenarios with confidence:
What if my friend asks me not to tell anyone? It’s totally understandable if your friend asks you to keep a secret. But when dealing with mental health struggles, this isn’t always a good idea. To avoid breaking a promise, it’s easier to not make one in the first place. If your friend asks you to promise not to tell anyone, you can say something along the lines of “I understand why you want me to promise not to tell anyone, and I can do that unless there’s something that makes me really worried about you. I’m always here for you and can go with you to get help if it’s helpful.” This allows you to preserve the trust you have established with your friend while leaving the door open for you to seek help from a trusted adult or professional in the event that your friend later tells you that they are hurting themselves or getting worse.
What if my friend rejects my help? Your friend might be scared to ask for help or open up. If you sense hesitation, you can start the conversation by talking about your own struggles, letting them know you are there for them no matter what, and that you are there to support them. A conversation doesn't always have to be how you extend a helping hand – you can reach out by inviting them to hang out, to come to an event, or activity. If you have a sense that they are needing more or might be more comfortable talking to someone else, you can offer to help make that connection.
What if my friend tells me they are being abused, experiencing trauma, or having suicidal thoughts? If you learn your friend is being abused, a victim of trauma or having suicidal thoughts, they might need more help than you can provide. The best thing you can do as a friend is to assist with getting that additional help, even if it’s hard for them to accept. Click here for more information and resources.
What if my friend becomes angry with me or stops talking to me? Being a confidant is part of friendship. However, sometimes being a good friend requires you to break that trust to get your friend long-term help. Even if your friend becomes angry with you for telling someone, their safety is more important. Consider that your friend may be angry for being “outed,” but they will likely appreciate that you cared enough to get them the help they needed. That said, it’s important to know that sometimes friendships suffer or even end when a friend seeks professional help for a struggling friend. Know that you’re doing the right thing and can take comfort that you played a role for them in starting their road to recovery.
Is just being there enough? Often, just being there is enough for your friend, even if words fail. Listen to your friend, follow-up, and check-in regularly. Being supportive doesn’t have to happen all at once. It can, and usually is, the little moments strung together that truly make an impact. Even if the gesture is small like a text saying you’re thinking about them or how much you appreciate them, it matters. The smallest of gestures add up over time and signal that you care.
Check out these pages for additional resources to navigate specific conversations:
Experiencing a Breakup (Mental Health is Health) Breakups are never easy. Allow your friend to have space to be in a funky mood and just keep checking in. Sometimes, time is the only cure for a broken heart.
Press Pause - The Ex Factor (YouTube) Most of us have spent a little too much time obsessing over an ex's social media updates, but paying too much attention can make us feel stressed, anxious and stuck.
Dealing with loss:
Experiencing Loss (Mental Health is Health) Losing someone we care about can be a hard thing to deal with emotionally. Learn more about how to deal with the loss of a loved one.
Suicide prevention interventions and treatments (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) There are biological and psychological treatments that can help address the underlying health issues that put people at risk for suicide.
When a loved one has made a suicide attempt (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) When someone you love attempts to take their life, it can evoke a range of strong emotions.
LGBTQ mental health and suicide prevention (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) Learn more about prevention strategies, programs, and practices that serve the unique needs of LGBTQ populations.