How to look out for your mate – an expert guide

Adult holding red square in front of own face, on which is drawn an unhappy faceHelping a mate or family member when they are low or bereaved can be extremely challenging and there is no easy way to know what (or how much) to say.  What is clear is that when people are very low or distressed, having someone reach out to them and offer to listen was essential.  A large study of Canadians suffering from chronic pain and suicidal thoughts found that those with someone who provided “emotional security and well-being,” had an 87 percent chance of going into remission from their suicidal thoughts, a rate far higher than among those who did not.  Support was the biggest factor encouraging recovery from mental health problems. 

Tips for helping people who are feeling very low

Check in with them regularly

Be positive, don’t judge how they are coping, and don’t suggest they get out more or socialise.  They may be struggling to cope to the point where even returning your call and invitation to hang out is beyond what they can manage, but knowing someone cares enough to get in touch lets them know they someone still cares about them.

Remind them of happier times

One idea is to start your conversation starter to be a happy memory and reminding them of their strengths and resilience.

Let them know you’re here to help

Be specific (and realistic) about what you can do to help should they need you.  Offer to check in within a certain time frame and stick to this.  Consistency is important.

Know when to refer

If in doubt, suggest that the person contacts the University Wellbeing service or their GP, who will be able to assess and support them.  Out of hours, the Papyrus website can be of help for those who are suicidal or know someone who may be, while the Samaritans offer telephone and email support.


Thanks to ThriveGlobal for their original post pointing to the evidence used in this post.

Assistant Librarian (Promotions) at the University Library. An enthusiastic advocate of libraries, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice for all, inside and outside the workplace.

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