How to ask a friend if they're okay

It’s hard to tell how everyone is feeling all the time, so it’s a good idea to ask. This isn’t always an easy conversation to have, so check out some of the things you can do to make it easier, including the setting to chat in, the questions to ask, the responses to give and what to do afterwards.

You might find this useful if:

  • You’re worried about a friend
  • You’re not sure how to start a tricky conversation
  • You’re having trouble chatting to a friend about how they’re doing

Choosing the right setting

Asking someone how they’re doing can sometimes be a tricky conversation to have. There are a few things that you can do before you even start talking to try and ensure that the conversation goes as smoothly as possible:

  • Make sure the conversation takes place in private. This probably isn’t the kind of chat that your friend will want people to overhear. Not to mention the fact that there are all kinds of distractions in public, which leads onto the next point…

  • Try to remove all distractions before having the chat. If your friend is busy thinking about the impending due date of an assignment, or what they’re going to make for dinner, it’s quite possible that they won’t answer your questions completely honestly. Do what you can to get them to focus without making a big deal out of it. Some good ways to do this are by making regular eye contact and using their name. 

  • Make sure they know you’re listening. You might be nervous but make sure you look interested, and try to use relaxed body language. Face the person square on, don’t cross your arms or legs, lean towards the person (close enough to look engaged but not so close they think you’re going to make a move) and try not to fidget.

Questions to ask

Before you start asking questions, there are some things to consider. Have they seemed withdrawn or down lately? If so, can you think of any possible reasons why? If you have some idea of what’s wrong, it might be easier to make the most out of the conversation. Some of the possible reasons they might be feeling down are:

  • Going through something stressful
  • Experiencing grief or loss
  • Being around people going through tough times
  • Arguing with someone
  • Problems at school/uni/work
  • Big life changes e.g. moving house
  • Caring for someone who is unwell
  • Being bored
  • Having a medical condition or chronic illness
  • Not sleeping well
  • Not exercising enough
Although you want to keep these things in mind as you approach the conversation, it’s up to your friend to tell you what’s going on – not for you to make suggestions. You don’t want to push the conversation otherwise they may feel less inclined to share with you. Some of the questions you can ask to encourage them let you know what’s going on are:

“Hey, how have you been lately? What’s been happening?”
“You haven’t seemed yourself lately – is there something you want to talk about?”
“What’s going on for you at the moment?”
“How are you doing? Anything you want to chat about?”

Responses to give

PHEW. You’ve asked all the right questions, but don’t go anywhere - it’s what comes next that’s most important. If your friend isn’t doing too well, and they open up to you about the things that are on their mind, it’s really important you respond in such a way that is non-judgemental and supportive. Listen to what they have to say, ask them why they could be feeling that way and make it very clear that you’re there for them. Some of the things that you might like to say are:

“I’m really sorry you’re feeling that way. What do you think brought this on?”
“Can you think of why you might be feeling this way?”
“I’m here to listen whenever you want to chat about it.”

Don’t forget about it

Having the conversation is the first step, but it’s by no means the last. Stay in regular contact with your friend, whether it’s sending them a text message or calling them regularly, it’s important that they know you haven’t forgotten about them. 

If they have been going through a rough patch for an extended period of time, it’s a good idea to have a chat about seeking professional help. Let them know that you will help them figure out who’s the best person for them to see, and offer to accompany them to the appointment. You can also recommend the ReachOut NextStep tool which is an anonymous online tool that recommends relevant support options based on what you want help with.

If your friend is really struggling and they’ve been considering suicide or self-harm, stay calm and stay with them. Offer them your support, encourage them to seek professional help and - if you’re worried about their safety - let someone know, even if they've asked you not to.

What can I do now?


Last reviewed: 05 April, 2016
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2 Comments

  • hartley_    (842 days ago)

    Hey Kate M!
    I see what you mean, it could be seen as suggesting that they as a person have changed.
    Maybe it could be used with some follow up questions to make sure it isn't taken the wrong way, something indicating that people have noticed that they seem sad or down and asking if everything is okay
    Great feedback though! Thanks:)

  • Kate M    (846 days ago)

    Hi, I do not think that saying "you haven't been yourself lately" is an appropriate way to approach a situation of grief. As a young person myself, I feel as though it is quite straight forward, and may suggest that they could have changed in a negative way. I think that a better way to see if someone is feeling ok would be to ask the question "hey, are you ok?" or "you seem sad, is everything ok?". This is just some feedback, great article though. Thanks.