Worried Your Friend May Have a Mental Health Issue? Here’s What To Do

If you suspect that your friend is dealing with an undiagnosed mental health issue, you can play an important role in helping him or her to seek the needed treatment to get better. Making the decision to get help depends on a variety of factors including understanding a problem exists (or its severity), overcoming feelings of stigma or attitudes towards help-seeking, knowing where to look for help, and having a supportive network. If your friend is unwilling to go for help, it is important to understand what key limiting factor is preventing them from taking that step.

As your first step, it is necessary that you are informed and educated about your friend’s potential illness. Remember, they may not be fully aware of the symptoms either. There are many resources available to gather information on signs and symptoms of a mental health issue. The Canadian Mental Health Association and the Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments are two reputable sources of mental health information.

A next step would be to learn about mental health from their cultural perspective. Your friend may come from a culture where mental health is not viewed the same way as it is in your country. This includes different perspectives on what causes mental illness, what the symptoms are, when to seek help, and what appropriate treatments are. For example, in the Chinese community, an individual will be more likely to seek help for the physical symptoms of depression like poor appetite and energy rather than low mood.

Once you are equipped with the right information, talk to your friend. If you feel you need to speak to someone about “how” to talk to your friend, seek out your school counselling service for advice on appropriately addressing your concerns, or keep reading for some helpful tips below.

  1. Express your concern in a caring, compassionate way.

    This means avoiding criticism and letting your friend know you are on their side. Don’t say: “You are no fun to be around anymore. Get help.” Consider saying: “I sense you haven’t been happy lately. I am concerned about you, and would like to help.” Try to focus on the symptoms you feel are affecting how they function socially, academically, or in the workplace.

  1. Give your friend information to help ease anxiety about getting help.

    Sharing what you have learned about the symptoms they are experiencing, where to seek help, and what to expect can help them feel more comfortable about getting treatment.

  1. Offer to go with them to their first appointment.

    Having you by their side may help them take that first step to find out if there is something wrong. If they are still hesitant to see a mental health professional, try recommending a visit with their primary care doctor. In this scenario, they can discuss their symptoms with an individual they know and trust. The doctor can try to rule out any physical causes of the symptoms and refer them to a mental health professional, if necessary.

  1. Don’t push too hard.

    Insisting someone has a problem isn’t helpful, especially if they don’t believe one exists. Even if your friend acknowledges there may be an issue, but doesn’t want to seek help, you have to respect that choice without judgment. Unfortunately, you can’t “fix” your friend’s problems. Getting better begins with a desire to improve. If they aren’t ready now, your understanding may be the reason they seek help in the future.

Just as importantly, you need to take care of yourself. Be supportive, but not at the expense of your own mental health. Your actions can also serve as an example of how to live a healthy lifestyle: Get enough sleep, exercise, eat nutritiously, and if you feel that you are struggling with your own mental health issue, talk to your school counsellor or doctor.


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Alternative resources

Canadian Mental Health Association
Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments


(Last reviewed December 31, 2013)

  1. Canadian Mental Health Comission. (2011). Cross-cultural mental health and substance use. Retrieved from http://www.cmha.bc.ca/get-informed/public-issues/cross-cultural.
  2. Fung, W.L.A. (2011). Culture’s role in mental health is overlooked. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/cultures-role-in-mental-health-is-overlooked/article581457.
  3. Shatter the Stigma Mend the Mind. (2013). How to talk to someone about their mental illness. Retrieved from http://www.mendthemind.ca/help/how-talk-someone-about-their-mental-illness.
  4. Tartakovsky, M. (2013). 9 things not to say to someone with mental illness. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/04/29/9-things-not-to-say-to-someone-with-mental-illness.

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