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Introduction to supporting your friends or partner(s) – for 11-18 year olds

Information for young people about how to support a friend or partner with how they're feeling.

How do I support my friend or partner?

If your friend or partner is going through a difficult time or is struggling with the way they're feeling, it can be hard to know what to do.

Whether you want to reach out to them or they've opened up to you, we'll help you understand more about what to do.

Tips on how to support your friend or partner

Go to our tips

It's just being there for her and listening to her and showing those little acts of kindness to her that really helps – Benj, 15

What might my friend or partner be going through?

All of us struggle with how we're feeling at some point. Sometimes there's a clear reason for how we feel and sometimes there's not. Either way we deserve the support and care that we need.

Lots of things might be going on for your friend or partner:

  • It might be things going on in their lives – like problems at home, school or work.
  • They could be struggling with their mental health.
  • There could be big changes going on in their life.
  • They might be worried about something that's happening in the world.

It's okay if you don't completely understand what's going on with them. Just wanting to support them is a good start.

I've found that the best way to support a friend is by showing them you're always there to listen to them.

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Supporting a friend or partner can be difficult, and it's important to make sure you look after yourself. You deserve to prioritise your own mental health and staying well will help you support them.

On our tips page, you can find information about looking after yourself while supporting them.

Signs my friend or partner might be struggling

It can be hard to know if someone's struggling with how they're feeling and their mental health. We can all act in different ways when we're going through a tough time.

Some of the ways your friends or partner(s) might act differently to usual are:

  • Seeming distant, or not themselves
  • Not meeting up with you or others as much
  • Spending more time on their own
  • Not chatting, smiling or laughing as much
  • Seeming less confident
  • Crying, shouting or being angry
  • Talking about feelings that worry you, like saying ‘I can't do it anymore’ 
  • Not doing or losing interest in things they normally like
  • Worrying about things more
  • Smoking, drinking or using drugs in ways they didn't before
  • Using social media in a different way

Some of the physical changes you might notice in your friends or partner(s) are:

  • Not dressing like they used to
  • Gaining or losing weight more quickly than you'd expect
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Finding it hard to concentrate
  • Looking tired
  • Not washing or taking care of themselves
  • Moving or speaking more slowly
  • Fidgeting and having lots of energy
  • Having headaches, stomach aches or feeling sick
  • Hurting themselves on purpose
  • Repetitive behaviour like tapping or checking things a lot

It can be hard to pick up on signs, and some of us hide signs that we're struggling. But try to remember that someone's body or appearance can change for all sorts of reasons. And just because they don't show any signs, it doesn't mean you shouldn't check in with them.

It's okay if you've not noticed or missed the signs. What's important is that you want to be there for them now.

If they're isolating themselves a lot and not really talking to many people, kind of just chilling on their own and being really quiet, you may want to have a little chat with them and ask if they're okay –  Chantelle, 13

How can I ask if they're okay?

Finding the words to start talking to your friend or partner about how they're feeling can be difficult. There's no perfect way to ask if they're okay and you can only try your best.

Try to think about finding a time and place where you can both feel as calm and comfortable as possible. You could also think about what the best way might be to talk to them. It could be in person, by text, or through voice messages or a call.

It might make you feel more confident to have some conversation starters prepared, like:

  • “Hey, I'm here for you if you want to talk.”
  • “We haven't talked in a while. What's been happening?”
  • “I've noticed you seem tired lately. Is there anything you want to talk about?’’
  • “I remember you told me that you were upset about ___ last week. How are you feeling about it now?”
  • “If you ever need to talk to anyone, you know that I'm here for you?”
  • “I know you're going through some stuff, I'm here for you.”

You could also find information or examples from something on TV, online or in a book that they might relate to. For example, you could ask:

  • "Have you been watching that series about…?”
  • “What do you think about the character who's dealing with…?”

If your friend or partner doesn't want to talk, try not to pressure them. Giving them some space can help them open up to you or someone else when they're ready. Let them know you're there for them and let them come to you.

What I didn't realise at the time was how much of a difference it makes to just say ‘I care and I am here for you’.

What should I do if they open up to me first?

If your friend or partner opens up to you first, you might not know how to react. By opening up to you first, this might show that they trust you and want your support. It's okay if this feels difficult to you. There are always lots of different ways to show you care.

If they open up to you first, you can try to:

  • Listen to what they're saying. Letting them talk and validating how they feel can really help.
  • Take what they say seriously. It can be hard if you disagree or haven't gone through it yourself, but try not to deny or downplay what they're saying.
  • Check you understand them. You could repeat what they've said to make sure you get what they're experiencing.
  • Ask how you can help them. It could just be being there for them, or they might want help talking to an adult or looking for support.
  • Encourage them to find support. This could mean talking to a doctor or a trusted adult like a parent or teacher.
  • Do things you both enjoy together. Doing things they enjoy, like watching a film or going for a walk, can make a big difference to how they're feeling.
  • Keep in contact. Keep checking in on them and inviting them to things even if they don't reply.
  • Remember you don't need to fix their problems. It's fine to not know what to say or do at first. They might just need to speak about how they're feeling right now.
  • Remind them that you care about them. It's good for them to know you're still there for them.

If you need to take a break from talking or things don't go well, you can try to talk to them again at another time. It's okay if you both need some time to reflect and talk again later.

Even if it's not about the problem, just talking to them, or going out on a walk with them, it does just make it better  – Himani, 17

What if I've been asked to keep a secret?

If a friend or partner tells you something and asks you to keep it a secret, it's normal to not want to break their trust. It's also normal to worry they might fall out with you if you tell someone.

But if you don't feel comfortable with what they've told you, or you think they or someone else could be in danger, it's important to do the safest thing.

You could:

  • Ask them to tell an adult they trust
  • Tell them that you need to tell someone because you're worried about them
  • Ask if there's someone else who they're happy for you to talk to or tell
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Although it might feel like you're breaking their trust, it's important to tell a trusted adult about what your friends or partner(s) have said.

Doing this can help make sure that you're all safe.

What if they won't let me help?

If your friend or partner won't accept help from you or the people around them, it can be upsetting, frustrating, or make you feel powerless. But try to remember there's only so much you can do.

If this happens, you could try:

  • Giving them time. They might not be ready to open up to you right now. They might find it easier when they've had more time to think themselves.
  • Letting them know you're there for them if they ever want to talk or just hang out.
  • Sharing information with them on finding support to read when they're ready.

What can I do if things aren't going well?

Sometimes talking to a friend or partner about how they're feeling might not go well. They might push you away, say upsetting things or get angry at you. They might also think that nothing is wrong even though you're worried about them.

If you're worried about things not going well, here are some ideas for how you could respond:

"Hey, I've not seen you at school for a while. Are you doing okay?”

“Leave me alone, you wouldn't understand.”

“I might not totally understand, but I'm here for you whenever you want to talk.”

“I know you've been struggling with ___ lately. Do you want to talk about it?”

“Nothing is wrong, I'm fine by myself.”

“Are you sure? It seems like it might be hard to deal with.”

“Please stop trying to be in my life.”

“I'm sorry you feel that way. I want to be there for you if I can, and if you want me to.”

Try to remember that they're going through something difficult. They might not mean what they say or do. And also remember that your feelings are important too. You don't need to manage things on your own.

If you're worried about them, you could tell them that you would like them to open up to someone else if they can. If it's affecting you and you don't feel like they're safe, you can tell them that you're going to need to talk to someone else about it for your own wellbeing.

Whenever someone you care about is going through a tough time, it's perfectly natural to feel like you want to find a solution or fix something.

What if I'm worried about their safety?

If you're worried that your friend or partner is in any form of danger, or they might hurt themselves or someone else, it's important not to deal with it on your own. There are a few things you can do:

  • If it's an emergency, call 999, ask an adult to call 999 or go straight to A&E.
  • If it's not an emergency, you can talk to someone about what's happening. This could be a family member, another friend or partner, or a HOPELINEUK adviser on 0800 068 4141.

Tell a trusted adult as soon as you can, like a parent or teacher. If you feel comfortable, you can tell your friend you're going to do this so they expect it. They may not like it or ask you not to, but their safety is important.

Worrying about their safety can be really hard to cope with, so it's good to look after yourself as well. For some ideas, our tips page for supporting others also has tips on how to look after yourself.

What if I'm worried about someone online?

If someone you know is acting differently online and it worries you, it's good to want to support them. At the same time you can't be responsible for everyone's safety. You can:

  • Speak to them about it
  • Tell a trusted adult, like a parent or teacher

If you think someone might hurt themselves or could be in any other form of immediate danger, call 999 or ask an adult to call.

Seeing someone that you care about going through something difficult can be very hard. But remember this won't last forever.

Where can I get support for myself, my friends or partner(s)?

It's okay if you, your friends or partner(s) need more support to cope. And you don't need to be the only person supporting them. Having a range of people offering support can be helpful, as different things can help at different times.

You're not doing anything wrong if they sometimes find other support more helpful than what you can offer.

You, your friends or partner(s) could get support by:

Need more information about getting support?

Useful contacts

This information was published in September 2023. We will revise it in 2026.

The quotes on this page are from young people we spoke to while making this information. They've given us their consent to use their quotes in our information. The words, experiences and opinions in the quotes are not related to the young people shown in any of the photographs we use.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

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