It’s natural to want to help

Help someone you care about

When you’re worried about someone you care about, it’s natural to want to help them. Sometimes it can be hard to know the ‘best’ approach. There are things you can say and do to help someone you care about feel better.

These five steps will help make it easier to decide how you can help.

Step 1 - Ask

Ask if they’re OK. You might feel awkward or uncomfortable talking about your concerns – but starting a conversation can help them to feel they’re not alone.

Explain your concerns

Tell them what you’ve noticed, like changes in their mood or behaviour.

Be direct and open, without blaming. Hesitating can make it seem like a taboo topic which may prevent them from opening up.

Use “I” statements

Begin sentences with “I’ve noticed”, “I’m worried”, “I’m concerned”.

Saying “you did this” and “you did that” might make them feel they’re being attacked, criticised or blamed. And that could make them defensive and not want to talk.

“I have noticed you haven’t been going out lately. I’ve missed spending time with you. Is everything OK? Is there anything you’d like to talk about?”

Ask open-ended questions

“How have you been feeling lately?”

“Tell me about what’s happening for you?”

Give them time to answer

Remember, you don’t need to speak to fill the silence. Let them set the pace and share as much or as little as they want.

“There’s no hurry, I know it can be hard to talk about these things.”

You can read more about helpful language and words to avoid here

Step 2 - Listen

Give them space to talk and really listen to how they’re feeling.

Give your full attention

Let them speak so they feel heard. Avoid interrupting or asking too many questions.

Show you are paying attention by saying things like “I understand”.

Use positive body language – like keeping eye contact and nodding your head.

Repeat back what they share in your own words to show you understand.

“I can hear you’re having a rough time with the pressure you’re under at work/home/school. Can I check I’m understanding correctly? Is there anything else you wanted to say about that?”

Show compassion

Validate how they feel. You don’t have to agree with what they are telling you. Avoid blaming or shaming.

Acknowledging what they say shows you respect their feelings.

It lets them know they can open up to you without being judged.

“Your feelings are completely valid.”

“It’s okay to feel the way you’re feeling.”

“I hear you, and I’m here for you.”

Zip your lips on tips

It’s natural to want to solve their problem so they feel better, but this is the time for listening, so they feel heard.

Try not to make assumptions about the cause of their worries, or what you think will help.

Remember that you don’t have to have all the answers. You’re there to support, not diagnose or fix the problem.

Ask, don’t tell.

“How is that making you feel?”

Skip comparing

If you have been through a challenging time too, sharing that information can help your friend or loved one feel less alone – but try not to compare your situation to theirs.

If they are telling you about a relationship break up, work pressure or being bullied, it may not be helpful to talk about how much worse your situation was. Perhaps focus on showing empathy and understanding instead.

“That sounds really hard. I know how much that hurts. I’m sorry you’re going through this.”

Stay calm

Your loved one may tell you things that are difficult to hear. Staying calm will show them they can talk openly with you.

“It’s brave of you to tell me this. I’m glad you trust me. I’m here for you.”


Thank them for opening up. Let them know they have taken a step forward by talking about how they are feeling and what they are going through.

If they’re finding it difficult to talk, let them know you’re there when they are ready.

“Keep in mind that I’m always here if you want to chat.”

“Remember, I’m just a message away if you ever feel like talking.”

Step 3 - Offer Support

Someone who is struggling can benefit from emotional and practical support.

Offer reassurance

Let them know they’re not alone, things can get better, and you will be there to help.

“I care.”  “I’m here for you.”

Ask what you can do to help

Avoid assuming what would be helpful. Instead, ask what they need from you. If they say ‘nothing’, you might offer some suggestions, without being pushy.

You might decide to offer them a lift, or to take them to an appointment with a professional, organise child care, cook them a meal, take over a household chore, go to the supermarket, walk the dog.

“How can I best support you right now?”

“What can we do to make things feel a bit better?”

“What needs to get done that I can help you with?”

Be patient and reassuring

Change can take time, so your patience and reassurance is important.  Avoid language like ‘you’ll get over it’, ‘toughen up’ or ‘snap out of it.’

Hearing that they’re not alone, and that they can get through it can be helpful.

Acknowledge any small improvements or changes you notice.

“I can see the effort you’re putting in, and that takes strength.”

“I noticed you XYZ. I’m really proud of you, that takes a lot of courage.”

“Remember that progress comes one step at a time, and you’re already on the right path by taking this important action.”

Respect their privacy

Keep your conversation confidential unless they are at risk of hurting themselves, or others.

“I know it’s not easy to talk about these things. Thank you for trusting me.”

Step 4 - Encourage Action

Asking, listening and offering support creates an opportunity to encourage someone to take action to feel better, or seek help if needed.

Explore options

Help them identify ways to feel better.

This involves exploring what options there are and how you might be able to help them.

You might support them to consider what they have already tried, and what else they could do.

“What have you tried in the past to manage difficult or similar situations?”

“What’s something you could do for yourself right now? What could you do that you’d find enjoyable or relaxing?

“What’s something that makes you feel good that you could mix into your daily routine?”

“Who else would you feel comfortable speaking to about this?”

Encourage, avoid taking control

Allow them to make decisions versus pressuring them to take action or seek help.

Stay connected

Keep socially connected with them. Remember to also chat about other parts of your lives.

Invite them to join you in social activities. Even if they don’t come, they might feel valued and appreciate being asked.

Encourage self-care

Share helpful ways to manage stress, relax or practice self-care. Ask what they find helpful.

Encourage them to exercise, eat healthily and get enough sleep.

Seek professional help

Sometimes professional help is required. Encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional and offer to help find them support, as sometimes this can feel overwhelming.

Step 5 - Check-in

Genuine care from someone who stays in touch can make a real difference to a person who is struggling.

Check in regularly – meet up with, call or text your friend or loved one once or twice a week.

You might want to check in after appointments to see how things went.

Remember not to give up. If they reject you, try not to take it personally.

Let them know you are still there for them and that they can talk to you.

“I’ve been thinking of you. How’s everything going? I’m here if you want to share.”

“Sending some positive vibes your way! How’s your day been? Let’s catch up.”

"Hey, just wanted to see how you're doing today. Remember, I'm here whenever you need to talk."

Look After Yourself

To be able to help others, remember to look after yourself too.

Make sure you are OK. Work on building your mental fitness and staying connected to your ‘village’ – those people you care about and who care about you too.

Take time out when needed.

You’re not alone

Supporting people we care about can be mentally and emotionally challenging. So be aware of your own wellbeing, and be prepared to take your own advice/seek support as needed.

Set boundaries

It’s OK to be specific about when you can or can’t be available to support. Don’t ever accept abusive or violent behaviour.

What if they don’t want help?

You can’t force someone to talk to you or get help.

They may not be ready to talk about what they’re experiencing. In this case, let them know you are available when they are ready.

"I understand you might not be ready to talk about it right now. Just know that whenever you're comfortable, I'm here to listen."

If they reject you, try not to take it personally. They may be embarrassed, or worried they are hurting you or letting you down.

“I respect how you’re feeling, and I’m here to support you in whatever way you need – whether that’s talking or just spending time together.”

Sometimes it may take more time before they are ready to open up, and just spending time together can help them to feel connected and supported.

If they’d rather speak to someone they don’t know, or a professional, you can help them connect with someone who can help.

Our Need Support Now? page can be a good place to start to find 24/7 advice and support. 

In an Emergency

You need to seek urgent help if someone has harmed themselves and needs medical attention, is having suicidal feelings and feel they may act on them, or if they’re putting themselves or someone else in immediate, serious risk of harm.

If a life is in danger, call 000.

Where to get more information

There are plenty of support resources available to help you and the person you care about.

You can find more information on resources, as well as crisis and other support services here.

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