Six tips for looking after your mates

  Friday 30th July, 2021
  Categories: Mental Health, Wellbeing

August 1st 2021 is the International Day of Friendship and a great reminder that the support we give - and get from - our mates can keep us going through hard times.

It can be hard for people to seek help when struggling with their mental health. Often, people feel like they should be able to handle these situations on their own. You might recognise this in yourself, too.

But there are plenty of ways you can help.

Here are six tips for being a good friend to the people most important to you.

1. Maintain connections

The COVID pandemic has created an unprecedented upheaval in the way we connect to people, limiting face-to-face interaction and increasing feelings of isolation. Now more than ever, it's important to put in a little effort to maintain your friendships.

Whether it's an email, a video call, a big event once a year, or lunch at the pub next month, maintaining regular contact is the key to making sure the significant people in your life don't fade into the background.

Maintaining connections isn't about big gestures. It's about the simple, little things. If you're time-poor, a quick check-in via text or social media is better than no contact at all.

Make time to celebrate your mates' wins and be there for their losses. Be the person that others can turn to when they need to talk, and you will get it back in return.

And if you don't hear from someone in a while, don't take it personally - we've all got a lot going on. Get in touch and let them know you're around for a chat.

2. Look for signs

Drought, bushfires, floods and social restrictions brought about by the pandemic have had a profound effect on all of us.

One of the ways you can be a good mate is to look out for signs that someone is struggling to cope or having a difficult time.

Everyone experiences emotional distress in different ways, but common signs to look out for include:

  • Restlessness and increased agitation
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Withdrawing from people and activities
  • Describing feeling helpless, hopeless or worthless
  • Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Talking about not being around anymore.

Don't underestimate the power of paying attention. If you see signs that a friend is struggling, ask if they're OK, be willing to listen and offer to get them to help if needed.

3. Have a conversation

You don't need to be a GP or a nurse to check in with someone you're worried about. It's better to reach out to a mate who's struggling than avoid them for fear of saying the wrong thing.

If a friend is having a difficult time, ask if they want to talk about it. They might not want to, and that's OK too. Maybe you're not the right person to talk to, but you can make suggestions.

Beyond Blue have suggested the following helpful phrases to help start a conversation:
I can see this is a tough time for you.
What can I do to help? Just tell me how.
I know it doesn't feel like it now, but there is hope that things can get better.
This conversation is between you and me.
Want to do something together to help take your mind off things?

4. Be a good listener

Being a good friend means being a good listener. By showing that you are actively listening, you're making a conscious effort to understand what the other person is saying.

Active Listening Do's

  • Look at your friend directly
  • Nod and give positive prompts such as 'uh-huh' and 'I see'.
  • If your friend says something you don't understand, ask for clarification. For example, 'What do you mean when you say…'
  • Ask open questions that begin with who, what, where or when. This opens up the conversation and encourages them to keep talking.
  • Try to summarise what they're saying and how they feel. For example, 'It sounds like you're saying…'

Active Listening Don'ts

  • Don't get distracted by things going on around you.
  • Don't judge, criticise or enter into a debate.
  • Don't cut off your friend before they've finished speaking.
  • Try not to leap to a solution.

Listening is a skill that improves with practice.

5. Encourage them to seek help if they need it

Support is the most important thing you can offer a friend. If they don't want to talk, or if they admit they need additional support, help them explore their options.

Encourage them to seek help wherever they feel most comfortable. This might be a GP, a family member, another friend, a religious or community leader, or anyone they think they can trust.

If they're searching for support but don't know where to start, Beyond Blue and Lifeline both provide excellent resources.

6. Be a good friend to yourself

Don't forget, as a mate and a supporter to the people around you, you need to look after yourself too.

Having a strong circle of friends is one of the most beneficial ways to maintain your mental health.

Being aware of your emotional wellbeing and taking steps to seek help and support when you need it, will help you be a better friend.

If you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, you can contact Lifeline on 13 1114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636

The Victorian Government's Coronavirus website has information about mental health resources:

Royal Flying Doctor Service and Relationships Australia Victoria have free, confidential counselling services for anyone impacted by bushfires. To find out more, contact: 1800 001 068

Sources for this article:

Beyond Blue:
MensLine Australia: