This article is part of a running series with Rowan University’s Wellness Center. This collaboration aims to educate students about personal well-being options. For further updates, follow @RowanUWellness on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
When a friend comes to us with a problem or if they seem in distress, our first immediate thought might be to try and figure out the best way to solve it. But is that truly the best thing to do?
Columbia University of Psychiatry (Tips for Asking a Friend About Their Mental Health) says that instead of immediately rushing to give advice or come up with a solution, it might be better to take a step back to ask what they need/want at the moment.
It might be a bit awkward to press pause on a serious conversation, and to ask someone what they need at the moment might sound a bit awkward, so how exactly should you go about it? Before doing anything, there are some internal questions that need to be asked such as the kind of relationship and how close of a relationship it is.
It is important to make sure that the friend knows they have your attention [and you’re] not distracted by anything. Interact with them and ask any clarifying questions instead of trying to fill in the blanks yourself because you are worried about interrupting them. If they are a close friend, simply asking “what would you like from me or how can I help” can go a long way. Alternatively, [if the relationship] isn’t a close one yet, make sure to thank them for having enough trust and to put themselves in a vulnerable position by opening up and then following it up with the questions.
In many situations, a person is not sure what they are looking for until faced with that direct question. Sometimes all your friend needs is a good venting session to just get their thoughts out and then move on and continue with their day. If they are looking to just vent, let them know that they are being heard and validated. While other times they would love to hear some advice and what steps they can take next.
Asking a friend if they need some space after coming to talk might seem counterintuitive; however, they may need some space or need to just let someone know they are upset. Should they say that they need alone time, ask them if they would like you to check up on them or if they would prefer to reach out when they are ready.
Asking these important questions lets a friend know that the primary goal is to be there for them. It will take some time until these questions roll off of the tongue naturally; however, having the ability to ask someone what they need at the moment can not only make a more effective communicator but may help strengthen the bond and create a closer relationship.
Tips for Asking a Friend About Their Mental Health. Columbia University of Psychiatry.
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Kye Binik, senior law & justice studies major, Wellness Center intern
Valentina Giannattasio, freshman dance and marketing double major
Joseph Conte, junior community and environmental planning major