I'm worried about someone I know

It's nice that you've noticed somebody else isn't doing well. Talking to them can do a lot to help them get better. These conversation tips will help.

Have you noticed that for several weeks or months your partner, a friend or a family member:

  • has retreated into their shell and no longer gets in touch
  • often can't concentrate or reacts irritably
  • stays in bed all day or can't sleep at night
  • somehow gives the impression of having changed or being sad?

Mental strains often sneak up on us. Instead of going away, feelings like anxiety, anger or sadness sometimes grow more and more oppressive. They increasingly dominate our everyday lives. Then it's time to take action.

Talking helps

The first step towards alleviating anxieties and negative feelings is to talk about them. By raising your concerns with them, you will help to prevent worries or a crisis from turning into a mental illness

Talking eases strains and gives us strength

Talking alone won't make anyone's problems go away You shouldn't expect everything to change right after your conversation. However, having someone who listens and is interested and sympathetic brings relief and hope. It does you good.

You don't need to solve the problems

Anxiety about having to solve the problems they bring up puts many people off having a conversation. However, it would never occur to you to remove someone's inflamed appendix – and nor are you expected to be able to cure depression, for example. Your sympathetic ear and your interest give the help that's needed.

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«In the chaos of my feelings, what helped me most was to talk to him about ordinary things.»

Matt und Tim (www.time-to-change.org.uk)

Start a conversation

Consider your own mood

Don't try to start the conversation unless you're feeling at ease and confident.

Pick a suitable time

An in-depth conversation takes time, so don't start it if either of you has to be somewhere in ten minutes' time. Sometimes it helps to ask when the person has time for a conversation.

I'd like to have a quiet word with you. When would be a good time?

Find a suitable place

where you won't be disturbed and you both feel at ease. Many people find it easier to talk about difficult things while walking, so a stroll in the woods may be a good opportunity.

I need to get outside again for some fresh air. Will you come for a walk with me?

It's OK if it doesn't work.

The other person may well not respond to your invitation to talk. Don't take it personally. Maybe they're not in the mood, or perhaps they need time to pluck up courage. Try again later.

OK, I understand. Would some other time suit you better?

Or you can ask for advice on the best way forward. Here are a few addresses and services.

The conversation

You might start like this:

I'm worried about you. You've been looking a bit down lately.

I'm concerned that you don't come to our get-togethers anymore. Are things not going well for you?

I hear your husband is ill. I imagine that must be a terrible strain. How are you coping?

Listening is what matters most

Many people are afraid of not being able to find the right words. But this underestimates the benefits of simply having somebody sympathetic to talk to. Your starting point for the conversation should be that you want to understand what the other person is feeling. Think up good questions rather than looking for answers.

Can you tell me what makes you feel good at the moment?

How does it feel to be in this situation?

What would have to change for you to feel better?

Show sympathy

It feels good to be understood. You might express sympathy by saying:

I can understand what a strain that is.

I'm sorry things are going so badly for you.

Silences are not a problem

Everybody sometimes has trouble finding words when talking about difficult situations. Don't be in a hurry to end pauses and silences. To get the conversation going again, it sometimes helps to say:

At the moment I don't know what to say either.

Know your own limitations

If you form the impression that the other person needs more help, you might say:

I don't know how we can move on with this either.

I feel at a loss.

Have you thought of talking to a specialist?

Here are a few addresses and services. That isn't always necessary, though.

Don't offer to give more help unless you want to provide it

Your attention and readiness to listen are a great help to the other person. If that's as far as it goes, that's OK too. If you feel like it, you can offer practical help – with housework or childcare, for example. Or you could just stick to listening:

You can certainly talk to me about it again if you like.

You should avoid

Don't play the blame game

Remarks like «Why don't you just pull yourself together?» or «You're always such a pessimist» aren't helpful. Mental illnesses are never a matter of willpower.

No advice or hints

We have a tendency to want to offer solutions. Remarks like «You really ought to get out more» make sufferers feel under pressure, or that they haven't been properly listened to. Listen carefully. If you're specifically asked what you would advise, you can refer to suitable inputs for mental health or to this website.

Don't talk about your own problems

Sometimes, with the best of intentions – to show understanding and sympathy – we talk about our own problems. This makes the other person feel you're not taking them seriously. But if you yourself have been through a very similar situation, then share your experience.

Don't deliver any diagnoses

Even if you suspect the other person is suffering from a specific illness, leave diagnosis to a specialist – otherwise the other person will feel that you've pinned a label on him.

No belittlement

Don't say «Everything will be fine again soon» or «This will pass». Remarks like this make sufferers feel that they're not being taken seriously.

Don't put the other person under pressure

You should go into the conversation with the attitude that you only want to know what the other person wants to tell you. If the other person breaks off the conversation, don't try to prolong it. You can try again another time.

End a conversation

Sometimes the conversation can just all get too much. These words will help you to find a good way to end it.

I don't think we're getting anywhere at the moment. Is it OK with you if we talk about something else?

I'm very sad about your situation. I need some fresh air – can we talk about it again some other time?

I don't know what to say. Shall we walk a little further together? We can talk more about it another time.

After the conversation

Whatever you hear, keep it to yourself

If personal matters came up in the conversation, keep them to yourself. If you need to talk to somebody else about them, don't name names. If you feel that outside help is required, though – if somebody is suicidal, for example – then you should call 143 and talk to Die Dargebotene Hand / La Main Tendue, which also advises those who are close to people in crisis.

Make sure you're all right

It will do nobody any good if you fall ill yourself. Take time for your own needs and interests. The following ideas will help.