Support a mate

Being there for a mate in the good times is easy and enjoyable. But when a mate goes through a rough patch, it can be hard to know what to do or say. This can be particularly challenging if your mate is not just having a bad day, but experiencing a mental health problem.

Time to read: 3 minutes


Mates are there for each other in the good times and the bad times.

There are some simple steps you can take to look after your mates, regardless of the challenges they may be facing.

These steps are sometimes called ‘Mental Health First Aid’, and can be remembered using the acronym 'REACT'.


Recognise symptoms

Engage the person

Actively listen

Check risk of harm

Take action.

Recognise symptoms of mental health difficulties

One of the easiest ways to do this is to know your mates well, as changes in their usual behaviour can often be the first sign that something is not right. Symptoms of mental health difficulties include:

  • physical reactions like nausea, sweating or shaking

  • changes in thinking like negative outlook or poor concentration

  • behavioural changes like disrupted sleep, increased aggression

  • excessive drinking and/or smoking

  • emotional changes like sadness, anger or anxiety.

Engage the person

After you’ve recognised the symptoms, engage your mate. Talk to them. For example, you might say "I’ve noticed X, Y and Z, are you ok?". Have this conversation in private if possible. Just be yourself and listen to them.

Actively listen

While engaging with your mate, you need to actively listen. Through active listening you will be able to understand what your mate is really saying. You do this by listening, reflecting and seeking clarification:

"So it sounds like you’re feeling angry because of XYZ, am I right?".

Allow your mate time to vent if need be, and don’t be afraid to allow some silence in your conversation. Sometimes people need silence to find time to think. This is not the time to argue with them, to tell them you know how they feel or try to solve their problems. Simply listen, reflect and clarify what they're saying to you.

Check risk of harm

If, after engaging and actively listening, you are at all concerned that your family member or friend is at risk of self-harm (including suicide) or harm to other people, you need to ask them about it.

Be clear and direct: "Have you been thinking about suicide?" It is a myth that you put the idea into someone’s head by asking this. Learn more about suicide awareness and prevention on the Operation Life website.

If they are considering suicide or self-harm, they should be taken to a doctor for assessment. If they are considering harming others, the police need to be involved. In both cases you need to remove any threats where it’s safe to do so.

You should never agree to keep secrets or leave them alone if they are in crisis.

Take action

If your friend is not at risk of hurting themselves or others, and you are no longer concerned about their mental health, you might choose to simply keep an eye on how they’re travelling for a while. However, if you think they would benefit from support, there are plenty of options listed on the find professional care page.

Remember, don’t ignore a mate who is struggling, or think that it is just their problem to deal with. Be a mate in both the good and the bad times - use the REACT Mental Health First Aid strategy if ever you’re concerned about a mate’s mental health.