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The second Thursday of September is RUOK? Day, but this is a really important question all year round. If you’re worried about a friend or family member who seems sad or withdrawn, it might be time to talk to them about it. Find out ways to make the conversation easier, including the right location, questions to ask, the best ways to respond and what to do afterwards.

This can help if:

  • you’re worried about your friend
  • you’re having trouble chatting to your friend about it
  • you want some pointers on how to make the conversation easier.
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Having the chat

Getting a friend to open up about deep stuff can be tricky. However, if you’re really worried about them, it’s important to check in. There are things you can do to make things run as smoothly as possible.

Pick the right place

Chances are this chat will be on the serious side, so you don’t want other people listening in. Pick somewhere comfortable and private, such as your house.

Try to remove any distractions before you start

If your friend is thinking about work, or what they’re going to eat for dinner, they’ll be unfocused and perhaps not in the right frame of mind to have an honest conversation. Try to get them to focus without making a big deal out of it. Making eye contact is a good way to get their attention.

Be an awesome listener
You can make a huge difference just by listening to your friend. It’s okay to feel nervous, but try and use relaxed body language. Not crossing your arms and legs, and facing your friend square on shows them you really care. If they decide they’re keen to talk about things, give them space to open up to you.

Don’t push it

If they’re not ready to talk, let them know you’re completely fine with that. Be patient if they need to think over your offer to talk. If they really don’t want help, don’t give up on them, just be patient.

Some things to consider

Before you chat, think about your mate’s situation and what may be happening for them. Have they seemed withdrawn lately? If so, can you think of any possible reasons why? If you’ve got some idea of what’s wrong, it’s easier to get the conversation flowing.

They might be feeling down because they’re:

  • going through something stressful
  • experiencing grief or loss
  • hanging around people who are going through tough times
  • arguing with someone
  • having problems at school/uni/work
  • experiencing big life changes, such as moving house
  • caring for someone who is unwell
  • bored
  • being treated for a medical condition or a chronic illness
  • not sleeping well
  • not exercising enough.

Questions to ask

It’s up to your friend to tell you what’s going on – not for you to make suggestions. Some of the questions you could ask to encourage them to open up are:

  • ‘Hey, how have you been lately? What’s been happening?’
  • ‘You haven’t seemed yourself lately. Is there something you’d like to talk about?’
  • ‘What’s going on for you at the moment?’
  • ‘How are you doing? Anything you want to chat about?’

How to respond

Okay! They’re ready to open up to you – it’s what comes next that’s most important:

  • Listen to what they have to say.
  • Ask them why they may be feeling that way.
  • Make it very clear that you’re there for them.
  • Be non-judgemental and supportive.

Look after yourself

Helping someone may require boundaries. For example, you might decide that you’re not prepared to miss school because of them, or that you won’t take phone calls after midnight.

Getting help

If your mate has been going through a rough patch for a long time, it’s a good idea to have a chat with them about seeking professional help:

  • Let them know that you’ll help them figure out who to see.
  • Stay in contact, to let them know you haven’t forgotten them.
  • Offer to accompany them to any appointment.

If your friend is struggling

If things are really bad or your friend has been considering self-harm, remain calm and stay with them. 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?