How and When to Help a Friend Reach Out for Support

When you start a conversation with a friend you’re worried about, the hope is that they will acknowledge they’ve been struggling, be honest with you about their situation, and be open to seeking help. As a supportive friend, what can you do next to help a friend in need?

Encouraging a Friend to Seek Therapy

There are a lot of misconceptions about therapy—like it’s only for people with serious conditions, it’s a luxury for people who can afford it, or it’s a sign that we can’t handle things on our own.

We all have different comfort levels with seeking therapeutic help when we are feeling overwhelmed. Each of us are influenced by the perspectives of our family and friends, our cultural background, and our personal experiences. Some people are from cultures, communities, or families where reaching out for help from a therapist or counselor is not encouraged. In some cases, seeking professional help may actually be looked down on as a sign of weakness.

The reality is that mental health professionals like counselors, therapists, and psychologists are trained to help people deal with a wide range of issues, from managing stress and anxiety to processing grief and trauma to treatment for substance misuse and addiction. Mental health professionals themselves come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and many are sensitive to issues of race, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, and more. There are also free or low-cost options available.

What You Can Do to Encourage Your Friend to Get Help

  • Remind your friend that seeking help for their mental health is a sign of strength. Addressing a problem before it gets worse takes courage and discipline. And it makes sense to seek professional help for something we do not naturally know a lot about or cannot figure out on our own. If it helps, you can liken it to visiting a doctor for a physical, seeing a financial advisor to get better at saving, working with a coach to improve their athletic ability, or getting a tutor when struggling with a subject in school.
  • If you have positive personal experience about reaching out for support, use your story to encourage your friend to do the same. 
  • Remind them that they can try it out and, if it’s not the right fit, change therapists or change approaches. The important thing is to try. Thinking of a first therapy session as an interview or testing out whether a therapist is a good fit can help your friend remember that they have choices and control over the process.
  • If you have contacts or are otherwise comfortable scouting for options, offer to help them look for a therapist and make an appointment. When we’re really overwhelmed, the task of finding help can seem daunting. Offering up options may make it more likely that they’ll follow through with making an appointment.
  • If your friend is anxious about their appointment, you can offer to go with them to their first session and wait outside, or to meet them afterwards. 
  • Refer them to our articles, such as What is Therapy and Will it Work? , How to Find the Right Therapist, and What to Expect From the First Therapy Session.
  • If your friend still seems resistant to the idea of therapy, check out our tips on how to talk to a friend who isn’t receptive to help.

Where and How to Look for Mental Health Support

You can help a friend find a therapist, counselor, or support group. Here are some tips about how to find a therapist:

  • Ask for a referral from a friend, family member, or trusted colleague.
  • Check to see if your friend’s campus or workplace has a counseling service, employee assistance program, or options for referrals.
  • Your friend can ask for a referral from their doctor, nurse, or other medical professional.
  • If your friend is struggling with addiction and recovery, look for local chapters of support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
  • Use a treatment services locator to find mental health professionals in your area.
  • Explore virtual treatment options through services like Betterhelp and Talkspace.
  • Some insurance plans have directories of mental health professionals that take their plans.

Finding Affordable Mental Health Support

If your friend doesn’t have insurance or can’t afford certain treatment options, there are community centers and organizations that offer free counseling, government agencies that offer mental health services, as well as therapists who work on a sliding fee scale. You can use the SAMHSA treatment services locator to find free or low-cost options in your area.

If Your Friend Needs Help Immediately

If after talking with your friend, you believe there is an immediate threat that your friend might harm themselves or someone else, call 9-1-1.

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text START to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for a free, confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7.

Find more ways to get help & feel better in our RESOURCE CENTER.

If this is an emergency, please call 911 immediately.

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