A woman's hand on top of a man's hand showing empathy and support


Do's and Don'ts of Supporting a Friend Struggling with Mental Health

If you are noticing warning signs that someone is struggling with their mental health, it's important to take action.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and according to the National Institute of Health, about 1 in 4 adult Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder every year.

It can feel scary to see a friend or loved one struggling, but there's plenty you can do to help a friend with their mental health.

Warning Signs of Mental Health Problems

If you're reading this article, chances are you already know something is off with your friend. Here are some signs someone might be struggling with their mental health:

  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Losing interest in hobbies and activities that they usually love
  • Really tired, sleeping a lot, OR insomnia
  • Changes in weight; noticeably gaining or losing weight
  • Increased use of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Grades slipping or not performing as well as usual at work
  • Decline in personal care- not taking care of personal hygiene or leaving personal space cluttered/dirty
  • Struggles with focus and memory

It's important to note that everyone has bad days, and having a messy room once in a while or getting a bad grade doesn't automatically indicate a mental health problem. 

Additionally, some people may show no signs and be able to cover up their feelings really well. 

That's why it's important to establish yourself as a good listener and a safe person for people to open up to, should they ever find themselves struggling with their mental health.

Ways to show you're open and safe to talk to

Before you can pour into others, you have to pour into yourself. So before over-extending yourself, make sure you are first grounded and supported yourself.

Do you have daily practices to support your own mental wellness such as meditation, yoga, gratitude journaling, breath work, prayer, or something else? 

Next, you can show you're open and safe to talk to in a few ways.

  1. Share how you are feeling with others. Being honest about what you're struggling with and when you've had a bad day helps others relate to you and know that they could share with you as well
  2. Frequently let others know that you're here to listen if they ever want to talk. People can be afraid to "be a burden" and not want to "bother you" with their problems, so letting them know that you're open to listening can help
  3. Sharing about ways you support your mental health. For example, if you're taking the day off work because you need a mental health day, just say that, rather than saying you're "sick." Or, sharing about how your meditation practice has helped you with anxious thoughts or how your Mood Chews have helped you relieve stress!

Do's of helping someone struggling with mental health

1. Simply Show Up

When someone is really struggling, it can be hard for them to remember that they have friends who love and support them. Now is the time to make the extra effort to remind them that you care, you are there for them, and you want them in your life.

Invite them to spend time with you, even if it’s to do nothing at all. Be sure to include them in your social activities, even if they always say no. Little things like texting, “Just thinking about you!” or a random Facetime chat can go a long way.

2. Ask them

Another part of showing that you care about your friend is not ignoring what you see. It can be as simple as asking, “What's been on your mind and heart lately?” This question can be more inviting to get people talking about their emotions rather than just "How are you doing?"

If they’ve gone through a stressful experience recently, you might say, “I’ve been thinking about you since XXX happened. How are you?” You might also say something like, “I’ve noticed you’ve seemed a bit down, is there anything you want to talk about? I'm open to listening.”

3. Listen more than you talk

It can feel scary to support someone going through a mental health struggle because you might not know what to say or what advice to give. The good news is, you don't have to give advice or understand exactly what they're going through. It's more important that you listen and validate their feelings! At the core of many mental health challenges is a feeling of loneliness or lack of community/support, so simply lending a listening ear can be a huge help.

Reflecting back to them what you've heard by saying something like, "What I'm hearing you say is you're feeling really overwhelmed by the amount of work on your plate and the family issues going on. That's totally understandable."

4. Offer help

You can ask them directly, "What can I do to help?" but some might feel uncomfortable to accept help. Some might also have trouble thinking of what help they even need or what to ask for.

So, you can offer specific ways you can help such as, "Can I cook dinner for you tonight?" or "I can pick up groceries for you while I'm already at the store this evening if you need." Be careful not to over-extend yourself, only offer help that you actually feel comfortable offering! 

If you are really close with this person and think they'd respond well to it, you could even just do things before them without waiting for them to ask. Just be careful not to overstep boundaries...one person may LOVE that you cleaned their room for them without them asking, while someone else may feel this was very intrusive.

5. Suggest professional help

If this person is exhibiting signs of severe depression, anxiety, or is having suicidal thoughts, suggest that they see a mental health professional. You can even offer to help them find a professional or offer to sit with them as they call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Because there's still such a stigma around mental health, some may brush this off and insist that they don't need help. Let them know that it's totally healthy and normal to get support, but don't try to pressure or force them into it, as this may backfire.

Don'ts of helping someone struggling with mental health

1. Don't try to diagnose them

If they say that they think they are experiencing depression or anxiety, validate what they're experiencing. But don't try to tell them they have depression or ADHD just based on their symptoms. 

2. Don't make it about you

When someone is sharing with you about their struggles, it can definitely be helpful for you to validate their experience by sharing that you've experienced similar feelings. But don't use it as an opportunity to take over the conversation with your own challenges and stories. Instead, continue asking them questions to understand their experience better. 

3. Don't invalidate their feelings or bypass their emotions

It can be tempting to try and cheer someone up by saying things like "It will get better" or "Don't worry so much, but this can backfire and make someone feel shame around what they're feeling. 

And definitely don't use shameful language like calling someone "hormonal", or calling anyone crazy.

4. Don't judge

If someone is struggling with mental health issues, they may fall into behaviors such as substance abuse, sexual activity or staying in an unhealthy relationship. Rather than judging them for this behavior or pressuring them to change right away, simply tell them what you're noticing and ask if there's anything they'd like to talk about.

5. Don't abandon your own needs or boundaries

Even though it may be painful to see someone you love struggling and you want to help them, if their behavior is detrimental to your own peace or health in some way, know that it's not your responsibility to help them.

You don't need to put up with hurtful or abusive language or actions. You can suggest ways for them to find help or support their mental wellness, but it's up to them to take action on it.


Supporting a friend struggling with mental health requires sensitivity, patience, and understanding. By recognizing the subtle signs of distress and knowing the do's and don'ts of offering support, you can make a positive impact on their mental health journey. Remember, your role is to provide a supportive presence, encourage professional help, and foster an environment where they feel safe and understood. As we observe Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s commit to being more empathetic and supportive towards those in our lives who may be struggling with their mental health.