for better mental health

How to support a friend – for young people

Information for young people about how to support a friend who is struggling with the way they're feeling.

This page is also available in Welsh (Cymraeg).

How do I support my friend?

If your friend is going through a difficult time or is struggling with the way they're feeling it can be hard to know what to do. Are you looking for ways you can help them? Or worried about their safety? We're here to help.

This page has information on:

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

Looking after yourself

Supporting a friend who's going through a difficult time can be hard and you might not notice how much it affects you. It's okay to feel upset, shocked, or angry from how they're acting.

It's really important to make sure you look after yourself, so that you stay well and you're still able to help your friend. You could:

  • Try not to take on too much – supporting someone on your own can be a big responsibility. Try to encourage them to reach out to other people they trust too, like their family, teachers or other adults they are close to.
  • Set boundaries – like letting them know what support they can expect from you, so you can draw a line at how much you can do for your friends and when.
  • Think about how it affects you – if supporting your friend becomes overwhelming, or starts affecting your mood, sleep, or eating, it's important to let them know you have to take some time for yourself.
  • Look after your wellbeing – remember to take time for yourself and do things that help you relax. See our information on looking after your wellbeing for tips on things you can try.
  • Talk about your own feelings with someone you trust - if you want to talk things over confidentially, Childline and The Mix both have counsellors you can speak to.

“Though you want to help them it’s harder when you are not feeling well yourself.”

Signs someone might be struggling

Sometimes it's hard to know if someone's struggling with their mental health, because everyone can act differently when they're going through a tough time.

Some of the ways people might act differently are:

  • seeming distant, or not themselves
  • not meeting up or responding to messages as much as normal
  • spending more time on their own
  • not chatting, smiling or laughing as much
  • showing lower self-esteem
  • talking about feelings that worry you, or saying 'I can't do it any more'
  • not doing things they normally like
  • crying or shouting
  • smoking, drinking, or using drugs when they didn't before.

Some of the physical changes you might notice in people are:

  • not dressing like they used to
  • gaining or losing weight
  • eating too much or too little
  • can't concentrate
  • looking tired
  • not washing or taking care of themselves
  • hurting themselves on purpose.

How can I ask if they're ok?

Finding the words to start talking to your friend about how they're feeling can be difficult. But really, there's no wrong way to begin and however you do it, they'll probably just appreciate you're trying. Here are some examples of conversation starters to get an idea:

  • 'Hey, I'm here for you if you want to talk.'
  • 'You're my mate, I'm here for you whenever.'
  • 'You've not seemed like yourself lately. How are you?'
  • 'We missed you at school today. Is everything okay?'
  • 'I'm worried about you. Is there anything you want to talk about?'
  • 'We haven't talked in a while. What's been happening?'

If your friend doesn't want to talk, try not to pressure them. They will open up to you, or someone else they trust, when they're ready.

“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.”

Tips on supporting a friend

Knowing how to help a friend who's going through a difficult time can be hard. You might not know what to do, or worry that you're not doing enough, but you're most likely doing what you can. Here are some things you could try:

  • Find a time to talk – it can help to find somewhere quiet where you're not going to be interrupted or overheard by others. You can check out our conversation starters for some ideas on how to start the conversation.
  • Listen to them – just listening can make a huge difference to how someone feels. If they're finding it difficult to talk, let them know you're there when they're ready.
  • Comfort them – there isn't a wrong thing to say. But you could try 'you won't always feel like this' or 'you're not alone in this – there's lot of people who care about you'.
  • Ask them what would help – it could just be being there for them, or they might want help talking to an adult or looking for support options.
  • Encourage them to find support - like talking to a trusted adult like a parent, teacher, doctor or someone else they trust. You could even offer to go with them to talk to them. For more ideas on where to find support, see our page on finding support.
  • Do the things you both enjoy together – sometimes just doing the normal things you do together like watching a film or going for a walk can make a big difference to how they're feeling.
  • Keep in contact – ask them how they're doing, keep inviting them to join in, and keep sending the occasional message just to check in, even if they don't reply.
  • Do something nice – like just sending a message to make them smile or laugh, or planning something small for them to look forward to, like a sleepover or a trip to the cinema.
  • Be patient – your friendship might feel different for a while, but there will still be good times and they will be glad if you can stick by them.

If your friend has opened up and it actually feels too much for you to handle, that's okay. You can thank them for talking to you, but explain how you're feeling. If you're able to, offer to help them find more support on our site. And don't forget to look after yourself too.

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

What if I'm worried about someone online?

If a friend is acting differently online and it worries you, it's nice to want to support them - but you're not responsible for their safety. You can:

  • tell a trusted adult
  • if it's on social media, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube, you can report the situation on the site
  • if you think someone might hurt themselves or could be in any other form of immediate danger, call 999 (or ask an adult to).

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

If a friend tells you something and asks you to keep it a secret, it's normal to not want to break their trust, or 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, you could:

  • ask them to tell an adult they trust themselves
  • tell them that you need to tell someone because you are worried about them, but you can ask if there is someone they would prefer you to talk to.

Although it might feel like you're breaking their trust, it's important to tell a trusted adult about what your friend has said, to make sure you're both safe.

What if they won't let me help?

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

  • give them time - they might not be ready to open up to you right now and might find it easier when they've had more time
  • let them know you're there for them if they ever want to talk, or just hang out
  • send them information on finding support, to read when they're ready.

“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 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:

  • 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
  • if it's an emergency, ask an adult to call 999 or to take them to the hospital.

Worrying about their safety can be exhausting, so it's good to look after yourself as well. See our page on looking after yourself for some ideas.

This information was published in March 2020. We will revise it in 2022.

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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