Step 1. Check in
Okay, so you’ve noticed changes in your friend’s behavior – or maybe it’s what they’re saying or posting online. You know you need to talk to them, but you’re afraid to say the wrong thing.
We’ve been there. Here are a few suggestions for how to break the ice:
Keep it low-key and one-on-one. You don’t want them to feel as though they’re being ambushed.
Find a private place where you can speak comfortably — a place you can chat for a while without worrying about being overheard or interrupted.
Pick a time when you both have flexibility and won’t feel like you have to rush.
Use text messages, but don’t rely on them. Texting may help get the conversation started. But speaking to your friend in-person or on the phone can help avoid misunderstandings.
At a loss for what to say? Here are a few conversation starters to help you check in.
Things you can say to check in with a friend
“I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately.”
“I just wanted to let you know you can talk to me about anything, in case you’re struggling with something.”
“How are you feeling? What’s going on?”
“I care about you. Are you OK? How can I help?”
“Can I [bring you dinner] [help you with homework] [take something off your plate this week]?”
Step 2. Be curious, don’t judge, just listen
The most important thing you can do for your friend right now is listen and ensure they know that you care and want to help. They’re probably not looking for you to understand or empathize completely.
In fact, assuring a friend that you’ve felt the same way or know exactly how they feel might even backfire, and result in them feeling even more alienated. Instead, you can emphasize that you care about them, that their experiences and feelings are valid, and that you are there for them no matter what.
So, to recap, remember to:
Inquire gently, and then just listen. Give your friend time and space to talk.
Make sure they feel totally heard, without judgment. Don’t jump to conclusions or try to fix it.
Most importantly, let them know that you’re there and available to provide support. You can even ask them how you can best support them.
Not sure how to respond to what your friend is telling you? Here are some ideas.
Things you can say to support your friend
“I’m here to listen.”
“That makes sense. I’m sorry you’re feeling this way/going through this.”
“I’m concerned because I care about you.”
“Have you talked with anyone else about this?”
Step 3. Take action
After that first conversation with your friend, there are a few actions you can take:
Reflect on your conversation. Is this a bad day, or a bad month? Is it impacting their daily life in a significant way? Review the mental health spectrum to see if you should consider helping your friend seek professional support.
Don’t let the first conversation be the last. Keep checking in. One of the most powerful things we can do as a friend is offer to be there for them no matter what. Ask them how they prefer to be supported. And look for clues and signs that their health may be improving or worsening, so you ensure they get help as they need it.
Talk to a trusted adult. If you're worried that your friend's mental health is getting worse, or if you're worried that they could be in danger, it's okay to talk with a trusted adult — a parent, school counselor, coach, or teacher. Choose someone whom you can speak to in confidence about your concerns and get their advice on what to do next.
If you’re not sure if the situation warrants talking to an adult, you can start by sharing without revealing your friend’s identity, and let the adult determine if more action is needed. Another option is talking with a crisis counselor (call or text 988). Although talking with someone could upset your friend in the short term, it could save their life in the long term.
Need suggestions for how to continue to check in with your friend or encourage them to seek support? Here are a few suggestions.
Things you can say to keep checking in
“Can I help you find someone to talk to who can make you feel better?”
“Have you heard of peer support, it could be helpful” [link to peer support page]
“Have you had thoughts of hurting yourself?”
“Can I walk with you to the counseling center?“
“Can I be with you while you text/call this hotline?”
“Just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing.”
It can be stressful when a friend or family member is experiencing mental health challenges. It’s important to remember that sometimes, even when you do everything right, trying to help may upset your friend. Be prepared for the possibility that they’re not able to see or accept the need for help.
If this happens, rely on your own support network — mutual friends, parents, other trusted adults — to remind you that you’re doing the right thing. And don’t forget to take care of yourself no matter what. 💛
To learn more about how to help a friend, check out this video from Teen Line below.