Friends are often the first person that we talk to when we are having a difficult time.
We can talk to friends in confidence and they help put what we’re going through into perspective. Friendship can play a key role in helping someone live with or recover from any difficulties they are facing, but it can be difficult to ask for help, and even harder to know what to say when you think a friend might be struggling.
Often starting a conversation is the first step to supporting them. It’s a good idea to think about where and when you’d like to talk and spend a little bit of time preparing for the conversation.
Choose somewhere quiet without interruptions where you can have a relaxed conversation. Sometimes it’s easier to talk openly when the focus isn’t just on the conversation you’re having. You might like to suggest going for a walk if you live together, or cooking something over zoom.
Make sure you have enough time to chat. If you have a short amount of time to talk this can put more pressure on the conversation, and if you have to leave halfway through they may feel hurt or interpret your leaving in the wrong way.
If you think a friend is struggling but they say they’re fine, it’s always a good idea to ask twice to reassure them that they can open up to you. Sometimes some extra prompting can get a friend to open up.
Try to focus on thoughts and feelings rather than behaviours: This helps you to look at the bigger picture of what is going on in your friend’s life rather than getting caught up in the ins and outs of specific behaviours.
Don’t worry about not understanding everything that your friend is going through, or not knowing exactly the right thing to say. Don’t worry about giving advice either – simply by giving your friend the opportunity to talk, you are showing them that they are not alone and that you are there for them.
Ask open questions such as ‘What can I do to support you with that?’. These types of questions give more opportunity for conversation and are more likely to encourage your friend to open up about their concerns. Try to be supportive and understanding when you ask questions.
Supporting a friend isn’t just about sharing worries and concerns – it’s also about keeping up with the things you enjoy and spending time together as friends. “What do you want to do?” can be a difficult question to answer if you’re struggling, so it’s good to be able to suggest a plan.
And remember that even if your friend seems hesitant about joining in with social situations, either virtual or in person once you’re allowed, it’s important to keep inviting them along so that they continue to feel included.
If things get tougher
If your friend is having a tough time, they may find themselves feeling more irritable or withdrawn, or feel their mood rapidly changing from one moment to the next. If you are worried that this is putting a strain on your friendship, try to remember that their behaviour doesn’t reflect on you or your relationship. Ups and downs are a normal part of life: give them time and allow them to confide in you when they’re ready.
It may also be helpful to pass on information of organisations or people they can reach out to. Read our Mental Health Support page for resources and links to our support services, or use the contacts below:
Health Assured 24/7 Helpline: Our new 24/7 mental health support phone line and app means there is always someone available to offer support – whatever time of day or night.
The Counselling and Mental Health Service: You can try these resources in the first instance. If you need to talk to someone, please complete this online questionnaire. You can then call their appointment line on 0161 275 2864 between 10.30am-1.30pm (Monday – Friday), stating the colour suggested on completing the questionnaire and you will be booked-in for the next day. For urgent support out of working hours please click here.
Greater Manchester Mental Health 24/7 Helpline: Ring freephone 0800 953 0285 for round the clock mental health support.
The Samaritans: Freefone 116 123 or 0161 236 8000 charged at local rate. Available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to talk confidentially about any problem, however big or small
Papyrus: 0800 068 4141
How do I respond if someone is suicidal?
If someone tells you they are feeling suicidal or can’t go on, it is very important to encourage them to get help. You or they should contact a GP or NHS 111. They can also contact the Samaritans straight away by calling 116 123 (UK) for free at any time. They could also get help from their friends, family, or mental health services.
You can ask how they are feeling and let them know that you are available to listen. Talking can be a great help to someone who is feeling suicidal, but it may be distressing for you. It is important for you to talk to someone about your own feelings and the Samaritans and the University Mental Health and Counselling Service can help you as well.
If they are planning to take their own life please encourage them to call 999 (UK) or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team. If they are unwilling or unable to do this and you are worried that they intend to take their own life please call 999 on their behalf. These are teams of mental health care professionals who work with people in severe distress.