Friendship and mental health- How do I help my friend who refuses to accept help?

April 14, 2021

I grew up a happy child, one that could differentiate between being happy or sad or angry. It’s the awareness my mom brought to me by pointing out the moods around and within us as children. Lucky to have this insight about a topic largely misunderstood but spoken to me by my mother, when I actually did face my first traumatic experience I wanted to run away and protect her from the ‘crazy’ that had gotten into me.

Having supportive family and friends was my golden egg- but I still chose to suffer alone in silence. It took me years of therapy and work to understand how self-destructive that behavior was and today, when I see my closest friends around me follow the same unhealthy trends- my heart wrenches. So, once you have identified that your friend is not being their 100%, how do you help a friend who refuses to accept help?

The answer is not simple, it firstly requires some level of introspection to identify if you may genuinely be able to be there for someone without employing a personal agenda or if you could disconnect yourself from your beliefs or biases or to even be emotionally strong yourself to take on someone else’s feelings and emotions.

Constant perseverance

When someone is going through ups and downs in their life, it is a normal belief that nothing good is going to happen. They may be feeling lost, trying to cope with their thoughts and feelings and therefor may come across as ‘closed off’. They may have no one to talk to, or feel alienated at home/work, or feel that no one truly hears them when they speak. This is the time when they need you the most. But they need to trust you first. They want to be sure that you are not going to abandon them and that you are here to stay. They may not want to see or talk to you, but you could keep in touch by dropping in a text to check up on them, or by sending them a meme on Instagram, or tagging them in a post. Keeping it light and adding humor makes the situation less serious and could help facilitate a conversation between you. Through these daily small outreaches, you are conveying that you are available to them through multiple easy access channels and that they can reach out to you via whichever one they feel comfortable. This method shows that you are constantly thinking of them in unrelated matters as-well and thus builds trust.

Listening and understanding

After exerting the trust and maybe allowing themselves to open up to you, they want to know that whatever is being said is not going to be judged. They don’t know if you could possibly comprehend what they are feeling and most times they themselves may not understand what they are going through either. Now is when you would listen to them with an open mind and try accepting may be what they are not being able to express clearly. Talking to a trusted friend could be a method of self-discovery. Without a bias, you try to apprehend their story and theirs alone. Many times, we just want to be heard or vent without an opinion or a course of action advised. Do not assume or make a comment too quickly or criticize what they are saying. Here, you accept that this is their narrative that is being narrated. Once you have comprehended their situation, you could then share if you have any- personal experiences or stories of your own. This would help them feel being understood, relatable, and not alone.


Empathy is something we are all inherently born with but may not know how to exercise it in our daily lives with people. Once it is clear that a friend is going through a tough time and you want to help them, you need to be able to empathize with them. The textbook definition of empathy is ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’ but, one does not need to take on another’s feelings wholly. Here, you would try seeing things from their point of view, and imagine yourself in their place. It is essentially putting yourself in someone else’s position and feeling what they must be feeling. Your friend wants to feel accepted for who they are without having to prove or explaining themselves to you. This is the beginning of your relationship down their mental health journey.

Knowing your limits and limitations

If your friend is suicidal, confused, miserable beyond your understanding, unable to get out of bed even after your talks, is isolating themselves, hearing voices, having extreme mood swings, they need to seek professional help and you could help enable the process. You could share contact details of professionals or send online references.

Sometimes in spite of giving your friend all the support and understanding, you might feel emotionally drained, and may not be able to deal with another episode. You need to accept that every relationship requires a healthy balance of give and take and if you are giving to a point where you are burnt out, you have reached your limit. You may feel responsible for your friend and worry about what would happen if you weren’t around, but you cannot take on your friends mental health responsibility all by yourself. You don’t need to cope alone and setting clear limits to the support you can give is not the same as rejecting your friend.

If your friend still does not want your help or refuses to listen, there are other forms of informal help that you could recommend- joining a support group or online community, going to a library, taking up a sport or exercising, meditating, going to a busy café to work from. These activities don’t necessarily have to be focused on mental health- but they allow self-reflection and may help your friend eventually.

Reference –

Prerna Chowdhary Siroya

An activist for change, trying to be a worthy member of the human race taking one baby step at a time. Passionate about everything psychology and currently studying to be a psychologist. Adrenaline and coffee addict, I love exploring, trying anything and everything new and scary!

*People only meet you as deeply as they’ve met themselves*

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