6 steps to having a conversation

Lending an ear to your friends can make a big difference when they are feeling down or struggling to cope.

Talking about mental health can be difficult, so here are six steps to help you along the way.

  1. Pick the right place and set a timeframe
  2. Start with simple questions
  3. Know what to listen for
  4. Know when to suggest or seek support
  5. Know where to recommend help
  6. Recommend positive small changes

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If you or anyone you know needs help:

This campaign is a Huon Valley Youth Committee project, supported by the Mental Health Council of Tasmania.


Step 1: Start it right

  • Try not to fix or solve anything. Instead, focus on listening and offer your support.
  • Find a quiet, private place to talk that’s not at school or home. The park, picnic area or beach are great options.
  • Set a timeframe for your talk, because these talks can go for a long time. Get a drink and talk while you’re finishing it. This will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  • Take your talk slow and steady, rather than rushing. Don’t be afraid to finish the conversation – it may take a few talks before someone is ready to get help.

Tip: Having someone else to talk to afterwards can also help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Step 2: Start with simple questions

Let them know you have noticed a change in their behaviour, or you feel something may be wrong. Let them know that you care about them and wanted to see how they are doing.

“Hey, you seem different. I have been a little worried.”

Avoid complex questions. Stick with direct questions that ask one thing.

“Is everything ok?”

Avoid making judgments and assumptions.

“Are you depressed? You are all sad lately…”

Ask one question at a time and be patient – you may need to wait for a response.

Tip: Try not to talk about yourself too much. Focus on you friend and how they are feeling.

Step 3: Know what to listen for

This is the hardest part, as listening takes more effort and concentration than talking. We have two ears and one mouth. So, we should work to listen twice as much as we talk.

Try to identify what they are…


“I keep thinking there is no point trying to do work”

“I stress about everything; it all is too hard”


“I feel so sad, nothing makes me happy anymore”

“I feel like such a failure lately”


“I find it hard to get the energy to do most things”

“I just spend all day in bed on the weekends”

You should ask them to expand and give more information on anything you do not understand. This will help both of you to understand each other better.

Tip: This may be hard for you and your friend. Take it slow and remember to not rush them.

Step 4: Know when to suggest or seek support

You have heard how your friend is feeling. What do you do next?

  • The first thing to remember is you do not need to fix anything.
  • Listening to someone and letting them talk is important.
  • Most of the time, listening helps more than trying to solve or fix anything.

If they say that they feel better after talking to you, you can let them know that talking is very healing and that continuing to do so will help them more.

If you hear something serious that has you really worried, like…

  • “I have been thinking life is too hard”
  • “I have been hurting myself to cope”
  • “I have been taking drugs to get through it”

This is more serious. Letting them know that getting help from a professional is important when this is happening.

Tip: If you hear something serious, then you must tell someone else. Keeping it a secret will not help you or them.

Step 5: Know where to recommend help

Always remember that making a recommendation does not require you to fix or solve anything.

By recommending help:

  • you are not responsible for making sure that they get better
  • you are not required to make personal sacrifices
  • you are letting them know that help is available
  • you are supporting them to make a change in their life

Recommendations should connect a person with a support that can help them.

This could be:

  • A medical centre
  • A youth mental health service
  • A mental health organisation
  • A school counsellor, welfare officer or psychologist

You may need to recommend a few different places to them before they decide on which place is the best one for them.

Tip: Having information printed off or on your phone ready to access will help a lot.

Step 6: Recommend positive small changes

Not all recommendations need to be professional. Even just making some small changes in our lives can help our mental health in a big way.

Diet: Eat a more balanced diet and avoid caffeine in the afternoon or evening. Caffeine can impact sleep and concentration.

Exercise: Exercise helps you to feel good. This can help will clearing our thoughts, helping us feel better and also exhausting us, improving sleep.

Sleep: Getting enough sleep is important, aim for 8 to 10 hours each night. Don’t look at your phone or watch a screen while in bed, which will help you get to sleep.

Substances: Using less drugs and drinking less alcohol helps. Substances are known to change how we think and feel, so reducing how much is being used is a good step forward.

Tip: These recommendations can be good to start with and show some immediate benefits. It could make seeking professional help easier later on.