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How to Support Others Struggling With Mental Health

In recent years we’ve seen a significant decrease in stigma regarding mental health among young adults. Still, more than two-thirds of students with anxiety and depression don’t seek treatment. Many do not know whom to turn to for support.

Support needed

People of all ages struggle to respond when someone they know admits they’re experiencing a mental health challenge. Research shows 74 percent of young adults specifically are unsure what to say when someone says they are stressed, are having a difficult day, are in pain, or have a mental health need.

The reality is that half of us will experience a mental health issue in our lifetime. Every one of us will have friends, colleagues, or peers who need support, particularly since one in five adults has a diagnosable mental illness. While professional help is an important part of a mental health care plan, so is a community-wide approach, underlined by research showing 67 percent of young adults first tell a friend they are struggling before telling anyone else.

How to respond

So, what do we say? How can we help? Active Minds recommends a V-A-R conversation. V-A-R stands for Validate, Appreciate, and Refer. This is an approach for helping others through everyday challenges. “I believe you.” “Thank you for telling me.” “I’m not sure exactly what to say, but I’m here for you. Let’s take a walk to get away from our thoughts for a moment.”


Support from a friend and active listener can help keep an everyday challenge from turning into a crisis later. V-A-R can serve as a resource for helping peers, colleagues, and family during times of emotional vulnerability. Remember V-A-R when you hear a loved one, or even a colleague or acquaintance, saying things like “It’s difficult to get out of bed and get my day started,” or “the thought of going to work has been making me much more anxious lately.” Speaking this aloud can take courage, and responding in a supportive way can mean all the difference.

Someone doesn’t need to be in a crisis to seek help, and you don’t have to be an expert to provide support. What’s most important is just being there for someone in a moment of need.

It is never too late to educate yourself on how to help others, and V-A-R is a simple yet effective resource you can use to show a friend who may be struggling that you care.

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