By Tiffany Curtis
Of the many ways that the coronavirus pandemic has severely impacted daily lives, one of the biggest is the toll it’s taking on mental health. What makes it even harder to fight off loneliness and anxiety right now is that many of us are isolated from our friends, who provide an important support system that we all could use during these stressful times.
One way to make things easier on our friends right now is by checking in on them and asking about their mental health. It doesn’t matter if you reach out via a call, text, social media, or in person—asking how a friend has been doing will let them know they’re loved.
And because friend check-ins might be a new thing for some of us, Bumble asked mental health experts for advice on how to start the conversation and create a safe space where you can speak with friends about mental health.
Switch up the way you check in
You can turn a chat with a friend into a mental health check-in by simply changing the way you start the convo. Swap out the standard, “how are you?,” for an open-ended question that gives your friend more room to elaborate on how they’re feeling.
“Try ‘Tell me how you’re feeling lately,’ or ‘What’s been on your mind’,” suggests Bronx-based social worker Kendra Cabrera. Rayna Smaller, social worker and founder of Brown Girl Space, suggests prompts like, “How’s your mood?” or “Are you finding reasons to smile throughout the day?” It’s an easy way to let a friend share how they’ve been doing.
Change your approach based on your friend
Mental health check-ins don’t have to feel formal or serious, and you may want to differ your approach based on which friend you’re speaking with. Some might be receptive to open-ended questions, while other folks may respond better to being directly asked, ‘How’s your mental health these days?’ or ‘Do you need anything?’
And if a friend doesn’t want to talk, you can also be sure to let them know that you’re there for them if they change their mind.
Be an active listener
When talking to someone about mental health, it isn’t always easy being vulnerable. So if a friend shares that they’re having a hard time, try not to play therapist or solve their problem. Instead, hold space for what they’re experiencing by listening to their feelings without criticizing or rushing to offer your opinion. Active listening is key—this means no scrolling or watching TV while a friend is opening up to you.
During the conversation, you can also validate a friend’s feelings by saying something like “I can see why you’d feel that way” or “what you’re feeling is valid.” Afterwards, thank them for sharing with you to show that you’re taking their emotions seriously and are genuinely interested in what they have to say.
If it turns out that a friend is really struggling with their mental health and needs more than just a listening ear, you may want to consider offering them some resources in the form of potential therapists, groups, or even social media platforms that center mental health.
But it’s important to first ask friends if they want feedback or suggestions, notes Cabrera. “I would also encourage folks to try to not give their friends directives like, ‘Go seek professional help,’ ‘go see a shrink,’ or anything with dismissive undertones,” she says.
Go beyond a supportive conversation
If a mental health chat isn’t your thing but you still want to make sure your friends are doing okay, you can check in by sending a care package, mailing a letter, or even sharing memes every once in a while. Just letting your friend know that you’re thinking about them and care can be really helpful.
But remember: It’s a hard time for most people, so if you’re struggling yourself and aren’t in a space where you can provide emotional support to your friends, that’s okay! “Be straightforward and tell you friends where you are and what you can offer,” says Smaller.
As long as you come from a loving place, chances are any sort of friend check-in will be appreciated.