Ask Someone if They're Okay
Perhaps you notice your friend acting different or being quieter than usual. If something strikes your suspicion, go with your instinct and find out what is going on. If you’re going to ask your friend if everything is okay, make sure you choose a good time to talk. Know how to steer the conversation in a helpful manner and show your support. Finally, encourage them to seek outside help if needed.
Preparing to Talk
- Have a private conversation. Choose the right place to talk to your friend. If you ask them in front of people, they might become embarrassed and not answer honestly. For example, if you’re out to coffee or lunch, your friend may not want other people to hear their response, even if they’re strangers. If you want to talk, pick a time when it’s just the two of you. Have the conversation in private where there are no prying ears.
- Talk in the car, on a walk, or another private place.
- Remove any distractions. Don’t ask your friend when they are in the middle of working on something, on their phone, talking to someone, or when they have something on their mind, like a test tomorrow. Ideally, you want your friend to have some time to talk without having any interruptions or distractions.
- For example, if you’re at your friend’s house and their parents or siblings often interrupt, go somewhere where interruptions will not occur.
- Feel prepared to talk. You should feel prepared to listen, talk, and support your friend. Don't be distracted by anything, and have some time set aside for your friend. Don't have other things on your mind or things that might distract you, like anticipating a phone call. Set aside some time that you have free.
- Remember that you cannot ‘fix’ someone’s problems. If the person isn’t ready to talk or doesn’t want to, be prepared to let it go.
- If you think you might get nervous talking about something personal, you could write down some bullet points you want to address.
Addressing Your Concerns
- Take a friendly yet concerned approach. When talking to your friend, be warm, open, and gentle. Show that you are concerned and want to help and support them. While you might choose to approach the conversation casually, make sure they know that you care.
- Say, “I’m concerned about you and want to know if you’re doing okay.”
- Nonverbal cues can help communicate your concern. Sit facing them and make eye contact when you speak. It if feels appropriate, you could place a hand on their shoulder to let them know you care.
- Ask how they are. Once both of you appear ready to talk, begin asking some questions. You can start by simply asking, “Are you okay?” Keep in mind that there are lots of ways to see how your friend is doing. Ask, “How have you been lately?” You can also ask, “How are you doing? Do you want to talk?”
- Starting the conversation can be the hardest part. Jump right in and allow them to respond however they choose.
- Mention something specific. If there’s something that worries you or concerns you, bring it up. Especially if your friend is surprised or somewhat defensive to your questions, expand a bit more. Talk about what you’ve noticed and why it concerns you.
- For example, say, “I’ve noticed you’re spending a lot of time alone lately. Are you doing okay?”
- You can also say, “You’ve been really secretive. Is there something going on?”
- Try to stick to objective observations without adding any assumptions or accusations.
- Avoid confrontation. Notice if the person doesn’t want to talk about it or if they feel immediately defensive. You don’t want to cause a fight or argument. If the person is not responsive to your questions, drop it. Reiterate that you’re concerned and that you’re there for them.
- If the person is getting defensive, ask, “Is there someone else you’d like to talk to?” or, “I’ll leave you alone, but please don’t hesitate to call if you want to talk.”
- Understand that it might take a few conversations for them to open up about whatever’s going on. Try not to push the issue in your first conversation or two.
- Talk about suicide. If your friend is suicidal, stay calm and stay with them. Talk with them about suicide and get help if needed. They might tell you how they are feeling or what they want to do. If you’re worried, ask, “Are you thinking of hurting yourself or taking your life?”
- If the person is scared to ask for help, tell them to call a suicide crisis like (like 1-800-SUICIDE) or emergency services.
- After the call, offer to help them find a mental health professional or follow up on whatever suggestions the hotline operator made.
Responding to Their Problems
- Be available to listen. It’s not enough just to ask your friend if they are okay. The important part comes next, when you show them that you’re available to listen and support them. Make sure you have time to listen if they decide to open up. Lean in and make eye contact frequently. Nod your head and give some feedback that you’re listening by saying, “Uh huh” or, “I see.” Reflect what they are saying to show that you understand the content and the feelings they’re expressing.
- For example, say, “I’m so sorry that makes you feel sad and angry.”
- Avoid saying you know how they feel. It’s best just to be there for them and empathize the best you can with what they are experiencing.
- Avoid judgments. Even if you disagree with the person, don’t immediately say so or start an argument. Don’t blame them for their experience, even if you think their problems are their fault. Keep in mind that you asked them if something is wrong. Whatever your opinion, keep it to yourself, at least for today.
- For example, if your friend admits that they have a drug problem, don’t chastise them for doing drugs. Listen and show your support in admitting their problem.
- Acknowledge their experience. When listening to your friend open up, acknowledge their experience and how it makes them feel. If they are having a hard time, notice and acknowledge this difficulty. Show that you’re listening and sympathetic toward their feelings.
- Try to simply listen and empathize for a bit before offering any advice. You might ask, “What are you thinking about doing about that?” Helping them formulate their own solutions can help them feel empowered.
- If you don’t know what to say, consider, “It sounds like this is difficult for you” or simply, ‘That sucks.”
- Encourage action. If their situation needs action, encourage them to take the next steps. You might encourage them to see a therapist, look into rehabilitation facilities, or talk to their family and friends. Perhaps you might encourage them to take some medications or take some time off from work or school.
- Say, “Thanks for opening up to me. I think it may be best for you to consider talking to a professional or getting some help.”
- Stay in contact. Check in on the person to see how they are doing. Let them know you haven’t forgotten about them. Send a text, ring them on the telephone, or see them in person. Let them know you are there to support them and help them when they need it.
- Continue asking, “How are you doing?” to follow up with them.
- Ask, “What can I help you with?”
- If you feel your friend is in danger, you might consider telling their family. This might damage your relationship with them, so determine if this feels necessary for your friend’s safety given the situation.