REACHING OUT AND
OFFERING HELP

We’re here to help you help someone else! There are many suggestions for getting that process started here. Please do not be overwhelmed!

REMEMBER – no one, not even trained therapists, are perfect in responding to someone who is struggling!

If you are sincere, nonjudgmental, and supportive, that will go a very long way. You’ll be saying “I’ve Got You.”

1. OVERCOME HESITATION

WHY YOU MAY HESITATE TO HELP
  • You don’t feel confident about where to start.
  • You don’t want to imply something is “wrong” with someone or risk offending him/her.
  • You believe that it’s not your place to interfere in someone else’s life.
  • You’re afraid of the person who seems to need help.
  • You’re afraid you’ll say something wrong.
  • You fear losing a relationship by bringing up the possibility that the other person is struggling.
  • You fear backlash from the person you are concerned about such as anger, defensiveness, or retribution.
WHY YOU NEED TO OVERCOME HESITATION
  • You have lot of guidance here at I’ve Got You!
  • Think of yourself as providing potentially life-saving first aid.
  • Just as you wouldn’t think it’s not your place to help a friend having a seizure, neither should you hesitate to help a friend struggling with a mental health disorder. It is a physiological disorder.
  • If you find it too difficult or scary to intervene personally, ask someone else to step in! That is still helping.
  • If you are sincere, nonjudgmental, and compassionate, you can’t make anything worse.
  • Even though it may be difficult, you don’t want to regret not having intervened. That is the worst possible outcome for everyone.

2. SAY SOMETHING

I’ve talked with hundreds of people who have a mental health disorder about how they’d like someone to initiate a conversation with them. Here are the most common things they tell me:

  • “If you’re having a hard time, you can tell me. I’ve got you.”
  • “Just ask ‘How are you doing,’ and mean it. Don’t let me get away with a simple answer.”
  • “It seems like you’re having a bad day. Do you want to talk about it?”
  • Sometimes, it feels good to be seen and acknowledged, but there might be another time that is better for talking.
  • “I’ve missed you at class/club/church, etc. Is everything OK? I really want to help if you need it.”
  • “It seems like you’re struggling. Please tell me what’s up.”
  • “Whatever you’re going through, your feelings are totally valid, I won’t judge you.”
  • “You have my full attention.”
  • “Are you really alright?”
  • “Hey, would you like to hang out and just chill?” Then, gently ask if things have been ok or if something’s up.
  • “You seem stressed out. How about a hug?” with a sincere hug and offer to listen.
  • Respond to their concerning social media post, emails, or texts. Say something like, “Hey, I saw your post. It sounds like you’re not feeling great right now. Tell me about it.”


One of the most difficult times to open a conversation is when someone is expressing a lot of anger. Here are some ways to approach him/her.

      • “You seem really tense or angry lately. I’m concerned about you.”
      • “It seems like you get upset very quickly lately.”
      • “I’m worried about how angry you’ve been with me/Mom/your friends/etc., lately.”

    If the person responds defensively or with anger, you can try listening nonjudgmentally. If they are abusive, say “Let’s not talk about this now.” While your observations may not be well received initially, you are planting seeds for further conversation.

    • When you’re very concerned: “I’ve been really worried about you lately. I’m coming over with coffee/chocolate/cookies, etc., so we can talk.” Use a declarative statement instead of asking for permission so the person knows you’re serious and can’t give an excuse to push you away.

    3a. LISTEN

    PHYSICAL ELEMENTS OF GOOD LISTENING

    • A safe place to talk – wherever both of you feel comfortable 
    • A time when both of you are unrushed
    • Full undivided attention – no distractions
    • Eye contact
    • Facial expressions that mirror what is being said
    • Relaxed and attentive body position

    MENTAL ELEMENTS OF GOOD LISTENING

    • Listening to understand
    • Listening to gather information
    • Listening with an open mind and heart
    • Listening without judgment – not even to things that are scary, shocking, disturbing, or alarming
    • Listening without forming a response while someone is talking
    • Listening patiently

    THINGS TO ACHIEVE THROUGH GOOD LISTENING

    • Creating trust
    • Demonstrating respect
    • Conveying sincerity
    • Showing empathy
    • Encouraging more sharing
    • Displaying acceptance
    • Learning

    3b. LEARN

    Listening to learn encourages further conversation, builds trust, and conveys respect and concern. You want to encourage the person about whom you’re concerned to do most of the talking. You want to learn what they are experiencing from them, without the filter of your own assumptions.  

    1. Encourage the person about whom you’re concerned to do most of the talking. You are an information gatherer. You’re a detective, and good detectives listen!

    2. Ask for more insights using open questions rather than yes/no questions. You can encourage a person to talk further by asking good questions. Open questions convey interest, respect, and a desire to know more. “What does that mean to you?” “What happens when you feel that way?” “Do you have any ideas about that?” or “What’s generally going on when you start to feel like that?” Closed questions allow one-word or very short replies. “Is this a good or bad day?” “Are you taking care of yourself?” “Did you do anything today?” or “Do you feel better today?”

    3. Use reflective listening. Get feedback from the person you’re listening to about whether you understand him/her correctly by playing back what you think the person is saying. This allows him/her to correct you or give more information.

    These techniques encourage a person to be open and continue conversing with you and can help prevent feelings of defensiveness (though this is a common reaction when expressing your concern for someone who is not well).

    4. OFFER HELP

    Things People Who are Struggling Would Like You to Say and Do

    Things to say:

    • “I’ve got you!”
    • Tell me more.”
    • Say very clearly and repeatedly, “I WANT to listen to you! You are not a burden to me!”
    • “Please know I’m not judging you.”
    • “What can I get you/do for you? (Then repeat) “It’s not a burden!” “I’m here for you,” and then ask again in to show you mean it.
    • “Hey, let me do that for you because it makes ME feel good!”
    • “I’m not going to let you down or reject you even if other people have.”
    • “Getting professional help could help you feel a lot better.”
    • “You could feel more like yourself if you talk to a therapist.”
    • “Getting some help could help you get back to (doing the things they enjoy or are good at and are missing).”

      Things to do:

      • Show empathy – empathy conveys “What you say matters, I respect you, and I want to understand what you think and feel through your eyes.” This is different from just offering pity or sympathy, which conveys “Yeh, that sucks,” and nothing else.
      • Be present – simply be around. Be good company. Depending on your relationship, this can include just sitting together, checking in via texts and phone calls, stopping by, snuggling, offering a cup of tea or coffee, bringing a favorite dessert, or watching tv together. And please don’t give up if you don’t get a reply to your call/text offering company! Keep popping up these ways. It means a lot even to someone who can’t get back to you.
      • Invite – extend an invitation to join you for a walk, a movie, coffee, lunch, etc. And if you get turned down, invite again. And again.
      • Acknowledge successes – folks struggling with mental health challenges are often criticized, judged, and told about their failures. You can point out even small efforts and accomplishments. “You’re really making progress on that!” “That’s awesome that you made that appointment!” “Hey, you finished that assignment!”
      • Offer to provide concrete help that is important to the person struggling such as doing a load of laundry, picking up groceries, walking the dog, putting a bill in the mail. Let the person tell you what feels helpful.
      • Offer help with looking for mental health services, making an appointment, giving a ride to an appointment.

      PLEASE BE PREPARED FOR SOMEONE TO RESPOND WITH...

      defensiveness / denial / anger / crying / breaking down / fear / anxiety / embarrassment when you first approach him/her.

      Do not take this reaction personally! Give reassurance of your sincerity, compassion, and desire to help and try again.

      The “Don’ts”

      The following responses can cause conversation to shut down and generate distrust. We’re trying to encourage talking and opening up!

      1. Don't be preachy, bossy, or "the expert."

      AVOID:

      “You really need to chill.”

      “Just put it in god’s hands.”

      “Look, I’ve been there. I’m telling you that you need meds.”

      2. Don’t be patronizing or dismissive or minimize their feelings.

      AVOID:

      “Cmon, it’s not that bad.”

      “You seem fine.”

      “Other people have it a lot worse.”

      3. Don't give advice before asking first.

      SAY:

      “Would you like some feedback from me?”

      “When you’re ready, I have some ideas.”

      4. Don’t shame, blame, or judge.

      AVOID:

      “You have to pull yourself together.”

      “You shouldn’t have taken so much on at once.”

      “That’s ridiculous.”

      5. Don't second-guess.

      AVOID:

      “C’mon everyone feels that way sometimes. I’m sure you’re not actually ‘depressed.’”

      6. Don't deflect or change the subject.

      AVOID:

      “I’ve only got a few minutes.”

      “That sucks. So, what’s new at work?”

      “Everyone feels that way sometimes. You’ll feel better tomorrow.”

      7. DON'T FIGHT WITH SOMEONE IN CRISIS!

      AVOID:

      • Arguing with someone when they are already agitated or angry.

      DO:

      • If someone is agitated or angry,  your job is always to keep yourself calm and help de-escalate the situation.

      REASONS THOSE STRUGGLING DON'T ASK FOR HELP

      There are many reasons people struggling with a mental health disorder don’t reach out for compassion, understanding, or help.

      STIGMA

      Stigma certainly plays a big role. Although times are changing, it is not yet common or easy for people to talk openly about their mental health to anyone – even very close friends and family. Many still do not understand that mental health disorders are like any other disorder of the body. Instead of responding this way, too often we respond as though the person has a flawed character.

      SHAME

      Folks with mental health disorders are often very self-critical. If they are too ill to work, they are often embarrassed by what they perceive to be a lack of productivity. They see their peers seeming to function and progress in their lives and feel left behind. They measure themselves against others’ accomplishments and endeavors and feel they are failures.

      FEAR OF DISMISSAL

      Some who are struggling are afraid their condition will be minimized as something to “get over” or “deal with.” They are often told “It’s not that bad,” “Other people have it worse,” “That’s crazy,” “You don’t really mean that.” They fear they will be thought of as simply attention-seeing. Because many of us still don’t recognize the signs of mental health disorders or are afraid of helping we dismiss those who need it.

      THEY DON'T WANT INSENSITIVE REPLIES

      Many people can’t bear to receive a meaningless response like “Hope you feel better!” with no follow-up, or worse, no response at all. They don’t want hurtful responses like eye-rolls, sighs, “Put on your big girl pants,” or “Again?” And whatever their faith, they don’t need to hear “If you just believe, God’s got this.” It doesn’t help.

      IT'S NOT ACCEPTABLE TO NEED HELP

      People with mental health challenges are often given signals or told outright not to talk about it by the people closest to them – often from family members – and this is the worst wound of all. Some families still think having a member with a mental health disorder is shameful to the family. They are ashamed of the person’s struggles.

      In some cultures, it is very difficult to talk about mental health. “Mental Health and Culture: Why the brave still stay silent and how we can start to change that” addresses this issue very well.

      THE IMPACT OF GASLIGHTING

      Some who are sick are subjected to gaslighting – being made to feel that what they are experiencing isn’t real. They are belittled or told they are tiresome. They are told they are irrational. This lack of understanding of mental health disorders can manifest in cruel and damaging ways that shut people who need help down.

      THE DISORDER IS THE OBSTACLE

      Having a mental health disorder gets in the way of asking for help. It can cause apathy, loss of self-esteem, exhaustion, social withdrawal, and paranoia – none of which is conducive to asking for help. For someone who is very depressed, just picking up a phone can literally be impossible. Some mental health disorders prevent people from recognizing they need help.

      THEY DON'T WANT TO BE A BURDEN

      Like many of us, people with mental health disorders don’t want to feel like a burden to others. They don’t want criticism or unsolicited advice. They certainly don’t want to be told they’re being overly dramatic or needy! They don’t want to be asked “Can’t you get over that yet?” They don’t want to feel that their attempts to reach out will be unwelcome.

      FEAR OF REJECTION

      Many people with mental health challenges have been rejected by friends, families, employers, roommates and others. They are terrified of further rejection or degradation. They are afraid if they put themselves out there and ask for help, it won’t be there or what they get back will make them feel worse. They are worried about the consequences they may face if they share their pain.

      TIPS FOR HELPERS

      YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS ALONE!

      • Talk to other friends or the family and share your concerns!
      • Often, many people see a couple of signs, but a wider group of people together have seen many signs.
      • Sharing and getting others’ input can be the difference between helping someone or having them fall between the cracks.

      If you are not a family member, please involve the person’s family unless you have a very serious reason not to.

      • As someone once said to me, “To the family, ignorance is NOT bliss. It is a delayed tragedy.”
      • Most often family (husband, wife, parents, siblings, etc.) will take on the responsibility for helping their family member navigate services and monitor his/her wellbeing over time.

      Consult a therapist yourself

      Discussing your concerns about someone with a professional can be a tremendous relief. You can gain a better understanding of the other person’s experience and get support for yours.

      IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW FEEL(S) SUICIDAL, go to the emergency room, call a mental health professional who can talk to you NOW, or call the police and say you have a mental health crisis, not a criminal situation!

      In the US, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

      FIND INTERNATIONAL HOTLINES

      Text HOME to The Crisis Textline at 741741. They are available 24/7 in the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, and Ireland.

      See Also: HELPING SOMEONE WHO IS SUICIDAL