What does it mean to be a good mate? Maybe it’s turning up at a friend’s door with a takeaway after a busy day, sending a meme you know they’ll find funny, or being there when they’re struggling. It can be hard to know when someone you care about is finding things tough and even harder to know what to say – we got you.
Asking someone how they really are can feel like squeezing the last bit of toothpaste from the tube, despite your efforts, only a small and slightly strained “I’m good” comes out. We can be pretty pants at pressing further, even when we know they’re having a hard time.
If you’re sharing a pint and want to avoid the person you care about mumbling into a packet of peanuts and swiftly changing topic, CALM are here to support you in supporting your pal.
Talking about our mental wellbeing doesn’t always come naturally, but while we might squirm when asked what’s really going on in the old brain box, talking really can help. That also means talking about suicide and suicidal thoughts.
115 people a week die by suicide, but the more we talk about it, the less likely someone close to us will reach crisis point.
You’re already a good mate if you’re reading this
Just the fact you’re taking time to read this, means you care.
We all go through tough times, from breakups, to worries about our identity – If you know your friend is going through something, take some time to read up on it so you can understand and empathise, because when you’ve got a good friend behind you, it can make things feel way less scary.
Just by being there, you’re probably making things a bit easier. Carry on doing all the things you’d usually do – keep talking and keep meeting up to do stuff you both enjoy.
It’s also important to remember that while you want to be a stellar friend, it’s not all on your shoulders. Look after yourself too. The CALM helpline is there for anyone who is struggling, including you. If things are tough, talk to us.
Keep an eye out
Something feel weird? Trust your instinct.
We can all be masters of disguise when we want to be, smiling and nodding in social situ’s to cover up what’s really going on. It’s not always easy to know when someone is feeling shit, but here’s some stuff that might help:
- Ups and downs in their mood
- Wanting to hang out less
- Changes to their routine, like sleeping and eating
- Seeming flat or low on energy
- Neglecting themselves, showering less, or caring less about their personal appearance
- Seeming reckless or making rash decisions
- Increased alcohol or drug abuse
- Being more angry or irritable than usual
- Talking about suicide/wanting to die in a vague or joking way
- Giving away their possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family as if they won’t see them again
Check in with their other mates
There’s no harm in asking mutual friends or family if they’ve been worried too.
Sometimes you need a second opinion. Check in with the mates you have in common to see if they’ve picked up on anything? Chances are they probably have.
We’re not suggesting you gossip about the friend in question, but use it as a chance to fill in any blanks. Have their messages been met with radio silence too? Or are they flaking on plans last minute? Decide together how best to support them, but approach things sensitively and in a way that won’t overwhelm or push your friend away.
Side note – nobody likes a loud mouth. If your pal has confided in you, respect that. It can be really tricky for someone to open up about things, so if they’ve trusted you with that information, don’t share more than you think they’d feel comfortable with.
Go ahead and ask
Sometimes the best thing you can do is say it as you see it.
Too often, we shy away from digging a little deeper because we don’t like to think that our friend is sad. But avoiding the subject all together, can make someone feel even more isolated or silly for feeling the way they do.
The truth is, no matter how much banter your mate might throw at you, whether they’re the life and soul of the party, or always seem to be smiling – anyone can struggle with their mental health and anyone can feel suicidal.
Mostly it’s about listening and giving them space to chat. Let your friend know you’re worried about them and that they can talk to you in confidence. Don’t try and fix things, pretend to know how they feel, or convince them how lucky they are. Instead, allow them time to talk, ask questions like “how does that make you feel?” and reassure them that these feelings aren’t permanent and support is available.
Remember that everyone is different and what one person might breeze through, another may find more challenging.
Give them something to smile about
Who doesn’t like a laugh?
You know that feeling when someone messages you out of the blue with a joke they think you’ll appreciate, or to remind you of a hilarious thing you did once, it’s nice huh?
Just because you know someone is having a hard time, doesn’t mean your messages have to be heavy. A little laughter goes a long way when you’re feeling crap, so send a message to let someone know you’re thinking about them, ask them over for a movie, or just send them something you found funny today. It might just turn their day around.
Don’t shy away from the S word
Get comfortable talking about suicide and the stuff that makes you uncomfortable.
It’s time to derail the stigma attached to feeling suicidal. You might worry that talking about suicide will put ideas in your friend’s head, but that’s not true. Acknowledging they’re feeling this way can actually be a big relief and make them feel less alone. If you think someone you care about is struggling with suicidal thoughts, we have a whole page on ways to support them.
Remember it isn’t your sole responsibility to keep them safe. If you’re worried, share your concerns and point them in the direction of support. If you think they’re at immediate risk, you can call their GP surgery, contact Samaritans, call 999, or take them to A&E and stay with them until they’re seen by a member of the mental health team.
If in doubt, give ALAN a shout
Here at CALM, we have our own mate who we lean on from time to time and you can lean on him too.
Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a stranger
Don’t be offended or take it to heart if they don’t want to reveal all. When a friend doesn’t want to tell you what’s going on, it can feel a bit like you’ve failed, but you haven’t. There’s nothing wrong with giving them a nudge in the direction of some professional support. CALM’s helpline and webchat service is open every day from 5pm until midnight. It’s free, confidential and run by trained professionals who will support your mate in their next steps. Access it here.