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What to say to someone who is going through a tough time

When someone is feeling down or going through a tough time it is important to take them seriously. Give the person space to explain what they are going through. Let them tell you how they feel.

Avoid rejecting the person's experiences and feelings. Try not to lessen how they feel. Do not try to change how they feel or their point of view.

Do not tell the person they're wrong

If someone is talking about their experiences and emotions, there are no wrongs. You may not experience the same situation in the same way.

You are not listening if you say things like:

  • "You shouldn't feel this bad"
  • "You're over-reacting"
  • "It's not as bad as you think"

Do not talk too much

Try to hold back from offering too much advice or your own experiences. Try and listen to their understanding and experience. Do not try to change their mind. The first step is to listen.

Do not try to solve their problem

It can be more important to know that someone else has heard you than to have someone suggest solutions.

Ask them if they know what they want to do next. It may help them to think about how they can help themselves.

Examples of what not to say:

  • "It's not that bad"
  • "Things will get better"
  • "How could you be so selfish?"

These reactions can result in the person feeling misunderstood and more isolated than ever.

Instead, listen to what they are going through.

Helpful things to say

Encourage them to talk by saying:

  • "Can you tell me more about what's going on?"
  • "If you want to tell me more, I'm here to listen"
  • "I've noticed you haven't been yourself, is there anything on your mind?"
  • "I can see this is hard for you to open up about. It's ok to take your time. I'm not in any rush"

Show them you sympathise by saying:

  • "It sounds like you're dealing with a lot at the moment"
  • "I'm really sorry to hear that you're feeling like this right now"
  • "I'm really glad you're sharing this with me"

Focus on their feelings

Encourage the person to share how they felt emotionally about what is upsetting them. Asking the person will not upset them more but may allow the emotions they've been holding in to be released. Voicing painful feelings can help to reduce emotional distress.

Active listening

Use your body language to show the other person your attention is fully on them. Try to face them and not get distracted by other things such as your mobile phone or the TV. 

Organisations that provide mental health supports and services

Page last reviewed: 1 September 2022
Next review due: 1 September 2025