Starting the conversation
Mental health is tough to talk about for a number of reasons:
- It's hard to admit one is struggling
- It's hard to know what to say in support
And the kicker is that support looks different for everyone.
Even for those who've experienced depression before, it's not easy.
Five things we can do to support our friends better
1. Listen, don't advise
It's tempting to give advice when someone comes to you looking for support. But rushing to "problem solve" can often make them feel worse.
So unless they ask for advice, default to listening.
Sentences you can use:
- "You can share anything on your mind with me."
- "I'm here and I'm listening. Nothing is off the cards."
- "I want you to feel understood. So feel free to share.."
2. Validate their feelings
Validate them. Don't challenge how they feel, this can also often make them feel worse. Instead, try to be curious.
- eg. Friend: "I feel like a failure."
- Do: Sounds really tough. What makes you feel that way?
- Don't: You're not a failure!
Most people just want to feel understood. When we give them the space to talk about how they really feel, it can often help alleviate tough feelings.
When we rush to challenge, this can lead them to feel misunderstood, doubt themselves or close themselves off.
3. Swap 'Why' with 'What makes you..'
Language matters. Why questions can often feel like an attack. You can soften them with the phrase "What makes you...".
- Do: What makes you feel that way?
- Don't: Why do you feel that way?
4. Ask: 'How can I best support you?'
Support looks different for everyone. Some want practical advice, others want space.
Asking "How can I best support you?" opens up a practical conversation and helps them feel loved.
5. Check in on quiet friends
Sometimes people need permission to share how they feel. Other times, they don't want to "burden" others so they keep quiet.
Checking in solves for both. Especially if you notice something different about a close friend.