Talking to friends about mental health: here’s what you need to know.
Life can get tough for anyone. You may be going through a rough bump or you may be worried about a friend who hasn’t been acting like their usual self lately. One of the best ways to get or give support is to talk about those tricky emotions with your friends!
Why we should talk to our friends
It takes a lot of courage to open up about how we feel but chatting to friends can help lift a huge burden off your shoulders. And it could even encourage a friend or a classmate to share their own struggles too, said Dr Mirjana Subotic-Kerry, a researcher at the Black Dog Institute.
It’s about making mental health just as normal to talk about as “having a cold or feeling sick or breaking an arm”, said Dr Claire Kelly, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Australia’s Youth Program Manager.
Ask them if they’re okay
Sometimes friends have trouble talking about their feelings.
“Simply asking ‘how are you going?’ is a great way to start a check-in,” said Mirjana.
If you feel like you need to be more straightforward, you could tell your friend you’ve noticed a change and just wondered if things are okay.
Show your friend that you care
Have a tiny voice at the back of your head telling you that you might say ‘the wrong thing’ and make it worse?
“That’s a really tough feeling,” said Claire, “but it’s important to remember – anything you do that shows you care is better than leaving your friend alone.”
“The best support is less about ‘saying the right thing’ and more about connecting with the other person,” Amanda Grehan, a Kids Helpline Counsellor added. “It’s okay not to have all the answers.”
Ways to support your friend can include:
- Spending time with them at school, during breaks and on the weekend
- Even if they don’t feel like hanging out, telling them that they can join in any time
- Asking them if they want to do another activity together
- Rather than trying to give solutions, the best thing to do for a friend who opens up to you is: LISTEN!
Reach out to a trusted adult
We all want to keep our friends’ secrets, especially when they’ve told us not to tell anyone else. But if it’s an unsafe secret, you’ll need to make the difficult choice to talk to a trusted adult:
- A parent or carer
- A teacher
- The school counsellor
- Kids Helpline (24/7, free and confidential) – call 1800 55 1800 or chat online if you prefer not to talk over phone
Talk about mental health – even when you’re not sad or stressed!
Even when you feel on top of the world, it’s important to keep in touch with friends and check in with each other regularly. You could:
- Talk about what keeps you strong, positive and relaxed
- Ask your friend what helps them
- Share what’s going on in your life
- Hang out together
Readers seeking support and information about mental health can contact Kids Helpline (for ages five to 25) on 1800 55 1800.