Friends are often the first people that we talk to when we are having a difficult time and they can help us put what we’re going through into perspective. But, it’s not always easy to start the conversation. We’ve put together this guide to help you, if you think a friend is struggling so you can have an open and real conversation about how they’re feeling and how you might be able to support them.
Choose somewhere quiet without interruptions where you can have a relaxed conversation. This could be at home, or a quiet café. Sometimes it’s easier to talk openly when the focus isn’t just on the conversation you’re having, so you could suggest going for a walk or for a coffee to take the pressure off.
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. Give the conversation the space it deserves.
If you think a friend is struggling but they say they’re fine, you could try asking again, to reassure them that they can open up to you. Allow pauses and space in the conversation for your friend to talk, it’s ok if it doesn’t flow naturally to begin with. Our tips below might help you think about what you’d like to say.
- 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. You don’t need to give advice, you simply need to listen to show that you’re there for them and that they’re not alone.
- 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. Whilst your friend might not be up for a big night out if they’re feeling low, they might still appreciate some more chilled time together, like going for a coffee, getting out on a walk or even company whilst going about their day-to-day chores like food shopping. And remember that even if your friend seems hesitant about joining in with social situations, it’s important to keep inviting them along, with no pressure to join if they don’t want to, 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: We offer a wide range of support including workshops, groups and a host of mental health resources. Please try these in the first instance as they may help you build on your own resources to manage your difficulties better. If you want to discuss accessing support including an appointment you can call us the service on 0161 275 2864 between 9.30am – 4.30pm (Monday – Friday). For urgent support outside of our working hours please click here. Other ways to get in touch see 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: For confidential suicide prevention advice contact 0800 068 4141 9am–midnight every day.
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 let them know you’re available to listen and 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.
If they are planning to take their own life, please encourage them to go to the Accident & Emergency (A&E) department of your nearest hospital or call 999. You can find your nearest hospital here. The nearest A&E unit to The University of Manchester is Manchester Royal Infirmary. 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. A&E is available for all health crises, including those related to mental health. Mental health emergencies are serious, so please don’t think you’re wasting anyone’s time. If you are on campus, then you can also call security if you need urgent assistance: 0161 306 9966.
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 which the Samaritans and the University Mental Health and Counselling Service can help you with as well.