15 questions to ask your best friend about their mental health
National Best Friends Day is June 8th—let’s celebrate! We all know how important best friends are—they’re shelter from storms, keep our darkest secrets, go shopping with us, hold our heads in their laps or lend a shoulder when we’re crying, and know where the bodies are buried. This National Best Friends Day, we wanted to shine a light on how friendship and mental health interact. Given how close we are with them, our best friends are some of the first people who might notice changes in our personality or behavior. Since they know us well, better than we know ourselves sometimes, they can also be amazing accountability partners as we lovingly battle mental health issues.
As someone who deals with and seeks treatment for mental health issues of her own, I understand firsthand how they can make you think no one is there for you or cares about you. I understand how the tricks my brain played on me led me into deep self-isolation that only made my anxiety and depression worse. I know just how hard it is to finally open up to those around you about what it is you’re dealing with and to tell them that you want to seek treatment. There’s a fear of judgement. There’s a worry that they won’t understand or try to. There’s apprehension that you’ll be dismissed or blamed for what are very real issues and illnesses. My biggest fear was that after pushing my friends and loved ones away, they wouldn’t care that I was finally ready to explain what happened and why I had been so distant—that I really wanted to do what it would take to get better and might need their help. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It’s been said that one’s mental health is not the burden of anyone else to bear, and that is true—our healing and treatment are on us. But no one can deny that facing our mental health struggles is easier when those closest to us, our best friends, are in our corner supporting and understanding us. Like most other things in life, it takes a village, and beyond therapy and personal coping mechanisms, being able to be there for your friends and have them be there for you is a major key.
Here are 15 questions to ask your best friend about their mental health, or 15 questions to broach with your best friend about your mental health. Use these questions to begin the conversation about mental health in your personal life and friendships.
1Do you lovingly battle any mental wellness or health struggles?
You can’t be a support system for your friends if you don’t know what they’re dealing with. No one can even begin to try and support you if you don’t open up. Gently opening lines of communication by asking if your bestie struggles with anything will not only provide insight into what they’re facing, but will let them know you care.
2What things affect your mental wellness?
You know they struggle with something. But why? Knowing what affects your best friend’s mental health can help you support them as they manage it.
3How does your mental health struggle manifest for you physically?
No two mental health struggles look the same. My anxiety and depression won’t look like yours. We likely will not respond the same way. This question is about getting specific and really trying to understand what it’s like for your friend to live in the world with their mental health issue.
4Are there any signs you’re struggling that I should notice or be aware of?
Even if your friend knows you’re there for them, it might not be easy for them to tell you they’re struggling. Knowing what to keep an eye out for can help you be there for your friend without them always having to say “I need help.”
5Is there anything you need from me to feel supported with your mental health?
The answer may be yes. The answer may be no. But you’ve let them know you’re willing to support them if they need you, and that’s everything. Just be prepared to step up if they say yes and tell you how.
6You’ve seemed withdrawn lately, is everything okay?
Maybe something happened, maybe work is just hectic. Either way, this question lets your friend know you are paying attention and looking out for them.
7Can I support you in seeking treatment if that’s something you’re open to or want to do?
While I personally believe seeking therapy or other treatment for mental health issues is a sign of strength, not everyone feels that way. If your best friend wants to seek treatment but is scared, asking how you can support them in doing so lets them know they’re not doing anything wrong by needing to talk to someone or getting on medication. Maybe they’ll want you to walk them to their therapy session, maybe they’ll ask you to make sure they’re taking their meds, maybe just asking will let them know seeking treatment is not only okay—it’s healthy and strong.
8What might progress with your mental health look like?
My therapist gives me homework. It’s helpful to share those assignments and what I’m working on with my mental wellness with my best friends because they can gently hold me accountable. And as great at hearing “Good job!” from my therapist is, sometimes it means more from a friend because they’re around me more and probably saw me talk myself down from an anxiety attack whereas I just told my therapist about it afterward.
9Are there physical things you can do to support your mental health? Do you know what they are?
If your friend doesn’t know, they can bring this up in therapy and brainstorm options with their health-care provider. If they do know, again, accountability. I know eating well, sleeping seven to eight hours a night, and exercising help me stay at my best not only physically, but mentally. The gentle nudge from my friends to keep doing those things, or the kind call-in if I’m not, is annoying but helps me stay on track.
10How are you doing? Really?
Humans have a tendency to “fine” each other to death. But here’s a challenge from me to you: go deeper. Rarely is everything fine. Life is exciting, boring, horrible… Make space to talk about all of it and don’t settle for a surface-level answer from your best friend.
11How is X treatment going?
Letting your friend know they can be open with you about their treatment, the ups and downs, will further reinforce your support for them. I talk to friends and acquaintances about my therapy because I want to lessen the stigma associated with going. We talk about sessions with our trainers at the gym; the work we do to keep our mental right and tight shouldn’t be off limits either.
12Are there any topics of conversation we should avoid?
Relationships are a constant exercise in getting to know someone. You might not know every single thing that impacts your friend’s mental health and why it affects them (and you don’t need to). But being sensitive and doing your best not to cause further harm or re-traumatize someone will always be in the dictionary under the definition of “good friend.”
13Are there any behaviors I can change or be mindful of to avoid causing further harm?
Do no harm should be an oath we all take in relationships. There may be a perfectly harmless behavior to you that is hurtful or harmful to your friend’s mental health. Knowing what it is can help you avoid engaging in it around them and protect their mental health in the process.
14What is it like to live with your health condition?
Empathy, people. Empathy. Mental health impacts life and life impacts mental health. Learning how your friend lives with their condition can be helpful in your efforts to support them and will just help you better understand what they’re experiencing day to day to day.
15You know I’m here for you, right?
Because at the end of the day, your bestie isn’t and shouldn’t have to go it alone.
I hope these questions start a conversation about mental health that you’ll continue to have with your best friends. Thank you to my therapist for not only reviewing these questions to make sure they were appropriate, but also for all she’s done to help me with my mental wellness. You can learn more about her practice and belief in experiencing life in harmony here.