How To Help a Friend in Need

Mean girls

Have you ever tried to help a friend through a rough patch and ended up tongue tied or made the situation worse?

Here are some things to remember when helping a friend in need.

Identify The Signs

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfarereports that suicide is the most common cause of death for Australians aged between 15-44.

Recognising the signs of mental illness in your nearest and dearest can help to address problems early on.

Whilst we can’t be expected to solve or diagnose problems, linking people in with the next level of support can be hugely beneficial.

One of the most common signs of emotional crisis is a clear and abrupt change in behaviour.

Some examples include: seeming withdrawn, more quiet than usual, sleep problems, pronounced changes in mood, such as irritability, anger, anxiety or sadness and partaking in risk taking activities.

2020 was a hard year, and 2021 has already had it’s problems. Arm yourself with the know-how to help a friend when they need you the most.

A woman holding a large seashell to her ear. Help a friend in need by really listening and not simply waiting for your chance to speak.
Are you really listening to a friend, or are you waiting for your chance to speak?


When asking somebody how they have been it is important to find a safe space at a time when you are both available to speak and unlikely to be disturbed.

Ask if they are okay from a place of care and non-judgement by letting them know you are concerned about them and want to check in.

Know the difference between sympathy and empathy.

Sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters. Empathy is experiencing someone else’s feelings by trying to put yourself in their shoes.

Brene Brown says empathy fuels connection whilst sympathy drives disconnection.

As Maya Angelou put it, “at the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

Also, keep in mind that you may not be the person they want to talk to. Offer to get someone else if that would feel more comfortable.

Help a friend in need by listening without judgement and being there for them. Bart Simpson comforts Lisa Simpson by placing his hand on her shoulder. Bart looks empathetic.
Sometimes listening is all that is needed to help a friend.

Don’t Use ‘At least’ Statements

As defined by The Psychology Group, toxic positivity is the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations.

‘At least’ statements often lead to the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.

If you are concerned that someone is thinking about suicide ask the person very clearly and directly if they are having thoughts of suicide.

If they say no, ask them about self-harm and substance abuse. Let them know your support is still there.

If they say yes:

              – Ask who else they have told and how long they have been thinking about it.

              – Remove whatever they have access to that they plan to use.

              – Don’t leave them alone.

– Get them the next step of help i.e. encourage them to contact their psychologist/ GP or help them to make an appointment with a health care professional. 

              – Call a crisis line like Lifeline 13 11 14 or 000 if life is in danger.

Listening to them, discussing it will them and letting them know that you are there will reduce the amount of suicidal despair they may be experiencing.

Research has shown that talking about suicide does not increase the instance of suicide. Have a life changing conversation today.

Seek Professional Support

If someone has opened up to you and you are concerned for their safety, it is important to tell someone. You are not expected to bear the burden on your own.

This may be a family member, Lifeline, someone in their circle or 000.

Professional Mental Health Services: Lifeline, Reach Out, Black dog, Beyond Blue, Headspace, Head to Health, Gotcha4lifeand a GP.

Sparkly tea cup and matching saucer. Floral tea which is being poured. Metaphor for 'you can't fill from an empty cup'. Help a friend in need by helping yourself first.
You can’t fill from an empty cup.


It is important to remember that we can’t be expected to solve our friend’s problem. We are not expected to be professionals.

These conversations can be difficult to have, often feeling awkward, confronting and scary.

Whilst it is important to care for our friends it’s just as important (if not more) to care for ourselves.

You cannot pour from an empty cup. Self-care activities such as journaling, meditation, yoga, taking a warm shower or a slow walk can help to prevent feelings of stress or anxiety.

Self-care is different for everyone and practicing it regularly can give your body and mind time to rest, reset, and rejuvenate so you can keep on helping yourself and those you love.

Sarah Oughtred

Sarah is a practicing artist with an interest in health and fitness. When she is not talking about why everyone should start meditating, she is Salsa dancing, traveling or drawing. Sarah's passions include dark chocolate and running and she has recently started taking cold showers (almost) exclusively. Sarah started her own pet portraiture business in 2020 and hasn’t stopped patting stranger's dogs since.

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