If someone you know is going through a tough time, they might tell you about it when you feel least prepared to help them. It’s important to remember that you don’t need to be an expert to support someone. You also don’t have to help them address all their challenges during a single, unexpected conversation.

Consider the situation from their shoes – the number one reason they're seeking you out is because they trust you. Perhaps they aren’t ready to talk to someone they don’t know like a counsellor or a GP.

That said, it’s difficult to predict how a conversation might go at any given moment. Here are some things you can ask or say to someone when they tell you they’re having a hard time:

  • “What can I do to support you?” Sometimes, it’s hard to know what might help someone. It’s OK to just ask what you can do for them rather than trying to guess.
  • “I’m here to listen.” All someone might need is the opportunity to vent to you about their challenges. If that’s the case, just check in with them in a few days afterward to see how they’re going and if they need any more support.
  • “I’m not sure what to do, but let’s figure it out together.” It’s common to feel stuck and unsure on how to help. It’s OK to admit this and take a slow approach to talking through the options together.

If you think you’ve said the wrong thing, don’t beat yourself up about it. The most important thing is that you let the person know you care. If the conversation is going well, you might want to see if they are open to the idea of seeing a professional. People find talking to a GP or psychologist useful – health professionals can give them some tools and advice to better cope with what’s going on.

However, don’t be surprised if they aren’t ready for this. The thought of getting support can be intimidating for some people. You could offer to book an appointment on behalf of them, or call a support service to find out what’s available in their area. If they decide not to go down this path, don’t critique their decision. Just continue to assure them you are here to help.

Remember, the Beyond Blue Support Service is accessible via phone (24/7 on 1300 224 636), online chat (3pm-12am, 7 days a week), as well as email. It's also worth checking out the Beyond Blue forums where you can find many topics and personal stories that can relate to ones affecting you or your loved ones

Related reading: When to talk vs when to listen

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