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How to help someone you see struggling

One in five Australian adults experience a mental illness every year, and about 45 per cent of Australian adults will be affected by a mental illness at some time in their life.

When someone is experiencing emotional struggles, it can impact their work-life by a decrease in engagement and, more seriously, lead to accidents. If left unchecked, it could also lead to more severe conditions like anxiety, depression, and even worse, suicidal thoughts. We must learn how to address these situations and break down the stigma, enabling people to get the professional help they deserve. [1]

In 2019 national omnibus survey revealed that approximately 63% of people are unsure of the signs to look out for that would indicate that someone is struggling, while 41% of people hadn't checked in with someone to see if they were okay as they weren't sure they knew the signs. The good thing is that 49% believed that they'd be more confident starting a conversation if they knew the characters. [2]

What are some of the signs?

When we know the person, we can notice a change in their behaviour and habits. Not knowing someone so well can be slightly more difficult. Here are some things to look out for:

  • looking tired and stressed.

  • Avoiding workplace social activities.

  • Shows trouble in concentrating or doing a task.

  • Being emotional and irritated to others.

  • Taking extra time off from work.

Start taking notice of the people you spend time with, ask them if they are okay. [3] How to ask someone if they are okay and what to do next?

Below is a 4-step framework taken from RUOK? They're a harm prevention charity, and these are their tips on how to approach someone you may feel is struggling. 1. Ask are you okay?

  • Be relaxed, friendly and concerned in your approach.

  • Help them open up by asking questions like "How are you going?" or "What's been happening?"

  • Mention specific things that have made you concerned for them, like "You seem less chatty than usual. How are you going?"


  • If they don't want to talk, don't criticise them.

  • Tell them you're still concerned about changes in their behaviour and that you care about them.

  • Avoid confrontation.

2. Listen with an open mind

  • You could say: "Please call me if you ever want to chat" or "Is there someone else you'd rather talk to?" 2. LISTEN WITH AN OPEN MIND 2. Take what they say seriously and don't interrupt or rush the conversation.

  • Don't judge their experiences or reactions but acknowledge that things seem tough for them.

  • If they need time to think, sit patiently in silence.

  • Encourage them to explain: "How are you feeling about that?" or "How long have you felt that way?"

  • Show that you've listened by repeating back what you've heard (in your own words) and ask if you have understood them correctly.

3. Encouraged action

  • Ask: "What have you done in the past to manage similar situations?"

  • Ask: "How would you like me to support you?"

  • Ask: "What's something you can do for yourself right now? Something enjoyable or relaxing?"

  • You could say: "When I was going through a tough time, I tried this... You might find it useful too."

  • If they've been feeling down for more than two weeks, encourage them to see a health professional. You could say, "It might be useful to link in with someone who can support you. I'm happy to assist you to find the right person to talk to."

  • Be optimistic about the role of professionals in getting through tough times.

IF THEY NEED EXPERT HELP Some conversations are too big for family and friends to take on alone. If someone's been low for more than two weeks - or is at risk - please encourage them to get in touch with a professional as soon as they can.

4. Check-in

  • Pop a reminder in your diary to call them in a couple of weeks. If they're struggling, follow up with them sooner.

  • You could say: "I've been thinking of you and wanted to know how you've been going since we last chatted."

  • Ask if they've found a better way to manage the situation. If they haven't done anything, don't judge them. They might need someone to listen to them for the moment.

  • Stay in touch and be there for them. Genuine care and concern can make a real difference. [4]

When we offer our support to someone who is struggling, the benefits to them of knowing that we care can make them feel supported. It can often give them the strength to take action to the next step. It is crucial to understand that when we are helping others, we too must have a support network to ensure that we stay mentally healthy and don't take on their burdens. Like we say, "you cannot give what you do not have,". [5]

Do you know someone who doesn't seem themselves? Use the framework above to help support them, and don't forget to ensure you have someone you can talk to.

If you want to know more about this or discuss a particular issue you are facing, call us today to have a private and confidential conversation on 1300 114 818 or email us at We look forward to talking to you soon.

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