How to Support a Friend Struggling with Their Mental Health

We all go through periods of self-doubt, feelings of sadness and despair, and a lack of motivation. Sometimes we don’t want to share this with others. Other times, we may have had people there for us. It’s essential to be there for people we love when struggling with their mental health.

The past few years have been difficult for many amidst the pandemic. Many young adults are struggling with their mental health, and it’s important to know what signs to look out for. Read on for what to look for and how to offer support.

21% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2020 (52.9 million people). This represents 1 in 5 adults.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration

Looking Out for Signs

Mental health is a very sensitive subject that many people tend to undermine, and it can be uncomfortable to talk about. Knowing the signs to look out for in your friends who might be struggling with mental health issues is crucial, so we are able to support them when they need us most. Some things to look out for when trying to distinguish when a friend of yours might be struggling with their mental health are sudden changes in behavior, appearance, mood, or actions.

Some more specific changes in behavior that someone might see in their friends, according to The Jed Foundation, are:

  • Someone no longer wants to participate in activities they once enjoyed
  • Isolating themselves from friends and family
  • Communicating less than normal
  • Sleeping more and still feeling tired
  • Being less productive at work or school
  • Eating differently, either losing their appetite or eating much more than usual
  • Increasing their use of drugs and alcohol and showing impaired judgment or reduced inhibitions

After recognizing any of these signs in your friends, you can work towards getting them to open up to you or a mental health professional about their struggles and hopefully get the help they need. It is important to know that we can’t push anyone to speak to us before they are ready, but recognizing they are having a difficult time and being there for them can be life-changing.

How You Can Help

Trying to offer help to someone struggling with mental health is a difficult task because often those struggling are so consumed by their emotional turmoil they don’t want help and get frustrated when it’s offered. We have to be careful to go about helping our friends who are struggling, so they feel nothing but love and support from us. Try starting with scheduling a get-together in a private place conducive to sensitive conversations. Begin the discussion with a concerning and supportive tone and try to be specific about the changes you have witnessed in their behavior. It’s easy for those struggling to feel both alone and embarrassed, so we must assure them that they’re not alone and that we’re there for them and are someone they can turn to for support. You must be mindful of your words and be careful to never act judgmental or with any sort of accusatory tone when speaking with anyone struggling with mental health. Don’t attempt to find any kind of solution or quick fix. It’s also important to note that you shouldn’t gossip about your struggling friend and betray their confidence. If you’re worried about their immediate safety, speak with a mental health professional or contact someone who can assist your friend.

Mental health struggles are something that many people struggle with for their entire life. The last thing we want to do is minimize the severity of what they are dealing with, as it can cause our friends to resent confiding in us and may then never ask for help. The best thing for friends and family to do when trying to support someone dealing with a mental health crisis is to assure them that they have a support system behind them. We might not understand what they are going through, but we sure can be there for them to lean on and support as best we can. 

Check with your university’s or college’s health center for more information about the resources available on your campus.

Getting Help & Support for Suicide

We can all help prevent suicide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.

If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, 1-800-273-8255 or dial 988 to be connected to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also contact your local law enforcement for immediate help.