Finding the words to help a friend

Talking about feelings is difficult for most people, but especially so for our generation and those older than us. But if someone you care about is struggling, you may be the person who can help them find their way out of the darkness.

As the “tough it out” generation, many of us have no experience talking about our worries and feelings and may have never done so in the past. Some may worry about what people will think if they start spouting off about themselves; some wouldn’t dare impose their troubles on someone else; and others are afraid to show any signs of weakness or “not coping”.

Does this sound like anyone you know?

Opening up a conversation about anxiety or depression with a friend, acquaintance or family member can be awkward, but it can make an enormous difference to their lives. As the man in the video below says, every minute spent in the dark hole is a waste.

Here are some conversation tips, starters and phrases, as recommended by BeyondBlue, that can help you get the conversation started.

Ad. Article continues below.
  • I’m here for you: Anxiety and depression can make people feel very isolated and alone. Hearing someone say explicitly that they’ll be there, and will stick by you during recovery, can really help. Of course, it’s most important that you follow through on that promise.
  • I can see this is a really hard time for you. Validating that the experience of anxiety and depression is difficult is one of the most helpful things you can say. The least helpful statements are those that shut down the conversation (“I know how you feel”, “just snap out of it”, “you’re attention seeking”, “think more positively”, “you’ll be right”, “just get over it”).
  • What can I do to help? Just tell me how. Ask them to be honest about how you can help them. The support they need will change throughout their recovery so be prepared to be flexible. Taking initiative and doing small things to show you care can also help.
  • I’m not sure what to do, but I’m sure we can figure it out together. You don’t have to always have the answers – and it’s best not to pretend you do. What’s important is that you’re willing to stick around and help them figure out how to start feeling better.
  • I know it doesn’t feel like it now but there is hope that things can get better. Encourage hope. Remind them that anxiety and depression are treatable, and with the right support, most people recover.
  • Have you thought about seeing your doctor or calling beyondblue? There is support available. Highlight the importance of seeking professional support. Friends and family can offer a great deal of support but professionals have a crucial role in treating anxiety and depression and promoting recovery.
  • This conversation is between you and me. It’s important you are able to be trusted. Respect their privacy by not sharing what they tell you with anyone unless they say you can (unless they are at risk of hurting themselves).
  • Do you feel like doing something together to help take your mind off things? It’s best not to talk about how they’re feeling all the time. Doing an activity you both enjoy can help people with anxiety and depression change the focus of their negative thinking and offer a sense of hope for the future.
  • I have noticed you seem to be doing better lately. Is that how it feels for you? Noticing the positive changes can be hard to spot, particularly if they are small and gradual. But gently pointing out your observations can help them to feel like things might just be improving.
Ad. Article continues below.

This video explains why it’s so important to reach out to people you care about who seems to be struggling.

Have you ever reached out to someone who is depressed or anxious? What tips can you add?