Worried about a friend.

Knowing Your Role

When a friend is struggling with their mental health, it can be hard to know how to help, and what your role is and isn’t. It can be useful to think about your own capabilities and boundaries before you offer a friend support, to avoid becoming overwhelmed. Being realistic about the level of support you’re going to be able to give is often far more helpful than overpromising and then burning out. Take a look at some practical suggestions of how you can help below, and see which would work for you:

  • Signposting - providing your friend with contact details of where to get professional help (more information below)
  • Offering to help them make appointments, or coming with them
  • Offering to help them with cooking, cleaning etc. if they are finding this difficult
  • Scheduling in regular calls or meet-ups - even if they say no, extending an invitation is an easy way to let them know you’re thinking about them
  • If they have issues with drinking or smoking, you could agree to not drink/smoke around them
  • Listening to their worries or thoughts in a non-judgemental, patient way (see our conversation skills section below for some tips) 

If you find yourself repeatedly stressed about a friend’s wellbeing, then we strongly recommend that you ask Student Advisory & Wellbeing for some support and guidance. You must prioritise yourself, or it can all become too overwhelming!

Skills for having a conversation about mental health

It’s normal to be nervous about starting a conversation about mental health. Rather than worrying about how the conversation may go, it can be much more helpful to consider the things you can control, like when and where you’re going to be talking, and preparing a list of signposting resources for them. 

Take what you think will be helpful from the tips below- ultimately, you know yourself and your friends best, and you know how best to talk to them. 

  • A lot of people find it easier to have tricky conversations whilst they are doing something else. For example, whilst on a car journey, shopping trip, or during an activity such as gardening or walking. Pick an activity which you both enjoy, that is not so demanding that you can’t concentrate on your conversation!
  • Consider where you are meeting- if you know a friend is having trouble with their living situation, it would be helpful to meet outside of their house. Lots of people find being outside in nature calming, so you could suggest going for a walk or picnic. 
  • If you’re worried, you can prepare what you want to say at the start before you meet up. Explain what your concerns are, that you want to help, and ask an open-ended question to try and prompt them to talk e.g. “How have you been feeling lately?”
  • Try not to worry if the conversation doesn’t go as well as you had hoped, or they are reluctant to talk- it can take a while to feel comfortable to share, and just bringing up the fact that you are concerned can prompt someone to at least consider getting some help, which is a massive achievement.
  • Don’t jump to problem-solve, as this isn’t always what is needed and it can come across as overbearing or unhelpful. It can be useful to establish at the start of a conversation whether someone just needs to vent, whether they want some advice, or just support or confirmation that their feelings are valid. 
  • Remember that even if something doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, if it’s affecting your friend then that’s important and should be taken seriously. 
  • If you’re not sure, ask. Ask them more questions about what they’ve been feeling or experiencing, and how they’d like you to help. Also ask them whether they’ve said everything they want to say at the end of the conversation, to check you’ve not missed anything! 



We have lots of links on our Wellbeing webpages, but some other key places that you can signpost someone to are listed here:

In the local area:

  • Contact  the Student Advisory and Wellbeing team at the University by emailing supportingyou@royalholloway.ac.uk - they can offer advice, and direct you to the most appropriate service within their team
  • Speak to your GP about any concerns you may have. You can register with the on-campus GP surgery here if you haven’t already, or find other local GPs here. DocReady is a website offering a practical guide to get you ready to talk to a doctor about your mental health for the first time.
  • You can self-refer to the Berkshire Talking Therapies service here- they also have self-help resources available on their website.

National resources:

  • Student Space (from Student Minds) are offering free phone, email and live chat support from 4-11pm and 24/7 text support, as well as loads of useful resources for students during the coronavirus pandemic
  • Under-25s can call The Mix on 0808 808 4994 daily 3pm-12am, use their online livechat from the same times, or text THEMIX to 85258 for 24/7 text support
  • Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) have a helpline on 0800 585858 from 5pm-midnight every day, or use their webchat from the same times
  • Mind UK has a bank of resources for those needing immediate help available here including some fantastic self-help exercises
  • The Blurt Foundation has a number of free self-care resources available on their website, with helpful practical advice

What to do in a crisis

We support Wellbeing’s advice regarding helping a friend in crisis:

If you’ve got a friend who’s in distress or serious crisis – possibly even considering suicide – consider the acronym COPE: be Caring, Optimistic, Practical – and seek an Expert.

  • Be Caring - Never ignore or take a suggestion of self-harm lightly. Research shows most people who attempt suicide normally tell someone else they’re thinking about it first. Ask them, and don’t be afraid that talking about the threat will put ideas into the person’s mind. It’s more likely they’ll appreciate being taken seriously.
  • Be Optimistic - Most human problems can be solved with time, care and expert help no matter how hopeless they might seem. Don’t give up hope just because your friend has temporarily lost theirs – their problem can be overcome. At the same time, however, don’t let your optimism lead you to dismiss or make light of the person’s concerns.
  • Be Practical - If a friend says they’re thinking about self-harm, do something about it. Involve other people, including the emergency services if you need to. Be especially vigilant if someone is intoxicated, under the influence of drugs, if they have made a suicide attempt in the past, or if they have a clearly formulated plan. Don’t, however, get drawn into making unrealistic promises of long-term support that you’re unlikely to be able to keep.
  • Seek an Expert - If the person in distress refuses to get help once the immediate crisis is over, consider contacting someone yourself in order to plan what steps can be taken to get support for yourself and your friend.

For further advice and guidance please contact Student Advisory & Wellbeing.

  • Emergency services can be contacted 24/7 by calling 999. For advice about urgent issues you can also call 111. 
  • The Surrey and Borders NHS Crisis Mental Health Hotline is available 24/7 on 0800 915 4644 or for those with speech or hearing difficulties, text 07717 989 024.
  • Samaritans offer 24/7 support, just call 116 123, or email them at jo@samaritans.org
  • Papyrus Hopeline can be contacted 9am-Midnight daily on 0800 068 4141, by texting 07860039967 or emailing pat@papyrus-uk.org 


‘You’ve got a friend in me’ Zine

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