How to Support a Friend with their Mental Health?

Research has shown that 42% of university students experience serious emotional or mental health problems with 26% of these students having a current mental health diagnosis. However, 78% of students report hiding the symptoms from those around them due to fear or stigmatisation. Providing a supportive environment for your friends to be open and honest about their mental health is an important step to help them to seek treatment and improve their mental health.

How to have these conversations?

Ask open questions: Open questions such as ‘What can I do to support you with that?’ give more scope for conversation and are more likely to encourage your friend to open up about their concerns.

Closed questions such as ‘Are you going to have any carbs with that?’ invite closed answers i.e. yes or no. Open questions can sound gentler and less direct.

Try to be supportive and understanding when you ask questions. ‘Why’ questions can feel quite aggressive sometimes. For instance, asking ‘What is it about this situation that’s worrying you?’ might seem less intimidating than ‘Why are you doing that?’

Practice reflective listening: This can be helpful both in communicating that you’ve really heard what your friend is trying to say, and in reflecting back emotions that your friend might not even be aware of.
So use phrases such as:
‘It sounds as if…’
• ‘It seems that…’
• ‘What I understand is that…’
• ‘So it’s almost as if…’

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  • Educate yourself about mental health
  • Know your own boundaries
  • Let your friends know you are there for them
  • Learn where to signpost your friends if their mental health worsens
  • Encourage them to seek help
  • Respond with empathy and listen to how they feel
    • Don’t minimise their feelings or experiences  
  • Ask how you can help them
  • Inform others if your worried about the safety of your friend
  • Look out for risk factors
  • Remember to look after yourself and your own mental health
    • Get support if you need it