If you’re worried that your friend might need help because they are self-harming or suffering with a mental health issue, it’s quite normal to feel anxious about how to start the conversation. Here are some ideas inspired by people whose friends helped them:
“It took me a lot of time to be honest with my friend. It was about the fifth time she asked that I finally admitted something was wrong.”
If you’re worried about a friend, finding the courage to have the conversation once is likely not to be enough. Your friend may have had ongoing issues for some time and they may be absolutely terrified to open up about them. They may fear the reaction they’ll receive. They may be upset or confused about their own thoughts or feelings. They might simply not have the right words to say. So don’t just ask once. Persevere with your offers of kindness and listening, you never know when the right moment for the conversation might arise.
“My friend finally opened up to me when we were skating in the park. I guess it felt a bit less intense and we were relaxed.”
This could be a pretty intense conversation and might simply feel a bit too much one-to-one. Talking about these issues whilst doing something else you both enjoy might help to break the ice a bit and let the conversation flow slightly less intensely.
“I didn’t know what to say but eventually realised that the only wrong thing to say was nothing, so I just got on with it and started the conversation. It felt a bit awkward at first but not for long.”
Even if you fumble over your words or don’t say quite the right thing, saying something shows you care and it gets the conversation started. The more you’re open to these conversations the more quickly you’ll learn the right and wrong things to say. At the start, the only wrong thing to say is nothing at all.
“My Mum gave me some really good advice, she said ‘He’s still your friend, nothing can change that, just talk to him like you would about anything else, he might be ill but he’s not a different person.’”
Just because they might have a mental health issue doesn’t mean someone suddenly turns into a completely different person. Just talk to them as you always have – draw on the things that normally fuel your conversations and make you feel good together.
“I was worried what my friends would think about me – it was really important to me to know that they wouldn’t judge me because of my self-harm.”
A good friend never judges, they just open their arms and hearts and offer unconditional support. Make it clear that you are that friend from early on in the conversation; you won’t believe the relief your words and actions will bring.
“The most helpful thing my friend did was just listen and let me talk.”
Don’t assume or guess what your friend is going through or why they feel the way they do. Instead just listen. Let them tell their own story, even if that is slow or difficult at times. It can be hard, especially when they’re just getting started with opening up, but it’s their story, not yours – listening is the very most helpful and important thing you can do just now.
“I was too scared to ask for any help, but my friend helped me realise why it was important, and she came with me too.”
If a friend feels safe opening up to you, discuss with them about what you might do together to try to make things a little easier. What support could you seek and how could you go about that together? The journey is a lot less lonely and terrifying when you have a friend to accompany you.
We hope these ideas help at least a little – please use them to start a conversation with someone you’re concerned about – or share them to encourage friends to have the conversation with you. So many things start to feel better once we break the silence.
Download a printable copy of this information: How can I talk to my friend if I’m worried about them