Ask, Listen, Plan

You can follow the tips below to have a healthy discussion with friends about what it means to not be OK:

Ask the question

Identify the triggers – try to recognise what makes your friend uncomfortable, and how your friend acts when they are unhappy. This may be that they go quiet or have trouble breathing.

Ask open questions – ‘how do you feel?’, ‘when did this start?’, ‘are you ok?’

Prepare yourself – choose your moment and be prepared for the answer ‘no, I’m not’

Be a good listener

Give attention and respect - give your friend the time and space to talk openly and don’t pressure them for a specific answer.

Be non-judgemental – people want to feel comfortable when confiding, so the worst thing you can do is be antagonistic or condescending

Don’t feel pressured to say the right thing – just listen and be honest

Produce a support plan together

Get extra support – signpost your friend to a safe place, whether that be the SU Advice Centre, Student Support Services, local organisations or helplines

Make time – make sure your friend knows that you’re there for them. Try drawing up a plan together of how to approach their troubles, but be aware that you can’t “fix” wellbeing issues so you won’t have all of the answers

Take care of your own wellbeing – do not blame yourself, make sure you take time for yourself such as sleeping, joining a sports club or society, and get help should you need it. You need to put boundaries in place to safeguard yourself, such as letting your friend know that your phone may be switched off at night but you can make time for them in the day.

Things to avoid

  • Downplaying someone’s problems as trivial or unimportant
  • Commanding someone to ‘calm down’ or ‘chill out’
  • Rather than practicing ‘tough love’, practice empathy
  • Insisting that ‘everything will be ok’ – it’s unhelpful and doesn’t solve much
  • Making the conversation about you
  • Suggesting alcohol consumption

Poor mental health is an illness, not a choice – so it should be treated as such.