Mental health is about being able to work and study to your full potential, cope with day to day stress, feel connected to others and live your life in a free and satisfying way (headspace.org.au).
Mental health conditions are common among teens and young adults with 75% of mental heath problems emerging before the age of 25. With this in mind, it is not uncommon for young people to have friends experiencing mental health difficulties and knowing how to be there for them can be reassuring.
Start a Conversation
It is important to share your concerns or your observations with your friend.
Find a good time to talk, with no pressure, no other people around and no interruptions. Then gently let your friend know that you have noticed a change and that you are starting to get concerned.
For example, you could say something like:
‘’I have noticed that you are not joining the group at lunchtime anymore. Are you okay?’’
‘’You do not seem like yourself, is anything going on?’’
‘’I am worried about you.’’
‘’I believe you are not feeling great right now, but with the right support you can get through this. Can you tell me what is happening?’’
Then, listen to them. You do not have to come up with answers or fix their problem. Listen, be respectful, be a good friend, do not judge. Avoid telling your friend things like:
- “This is nothing”
- “There is nothing wrong with you”
- “Get on with it”
- “Pull your socks up”
- “Stop always complaining”
- “It is your fault” or similar, as this is unhelpful and likely to reinforce their feelings of sadness, guilt etc.
What is more helpful is to say things like:
- “How can I help you?”
- “I am here for you”
- “Let’s talk to a supportive person about this”
Thank them for sharing things with you and encourage them to talk to supportive people and health professionals, such as their parents, the school counsellor, head of year/house, kidshelpline, youth beyoundblue, Reach Out etc.
What if my Friend does not want to Talk?
Some friends need time and space before they feel ready to get some support with their mental health. They may be afraid of stigma, or of things changing between you if they let you know what is happening for them. You may need to be patient. No need to get frustrated with them, give them time and reinforce the fact that you are there if they need to talk.
You cannot force people to get help but if you do worry about your friend and believe that they may be at risk of harming themselves or somebody else, you need to talk to someone straight away. If your friend is sending you a worrying text at night, strange photos, talking about attempting to take their own life – call 000 and talk to your parents about it.
Being a Friend
You can support your friend by:
- Checking in regularly;
- Including them in your plans (even if your friend may not always come, they will probably appreciate being included and knowing that you thought of inviting them).
- Being there. Sometimes just talking may help your friend feel less alone and more understood.
Taking Care of Yourself Too
Don’t forget to take care of yourself too! Self-care is very important.
- Remember that you are their friend but not their therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, or GP.
- Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.
- Don’t make the promise to keep things confidential. Instead set boundaries and make sure that you are doing what is best for yourself, your friend and your friendship.
- Talk to trusted adults.
Author: Meggy Delaunay, PG Dip Psych Practice, PG Dip Dev Psych, M Genetic Psych, B Psych, MAPS.
Meggy Delaunay is a psychologist who primarily works with children, adolescents and young adults. She is a registered Psychologist in Australia, New Zealand and France, and can provide therapy sessions in English and French.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.