What to say to someone who is struggling or finding life tough is something lots of people worry about.

We don’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing and upset them or make them close down – just as they were starting to open up.

But what is the right thing to say? And what is the wrong thing?

Before I share my top three things to say/not to say, it’s important to remember that less is more. Often, saying nothing and being a good listener is the best support you can give. We have two ears & one mouth – use them in those proportions!

Don’t underestimate how much good you can do by making someone feel listened to. Check out this blog for tips on how to be a good listener.

Obviously, you can’t stay completely silent the entire time – that would be a bit weird. So, what are the best things to say to make someone feel heard? And what should you avoid saying?

Below are my top three for each…

What should you say to someone who is finding life tough?

what to say to someone who is struggling

That sounds really frustrating/difficult/embarrassing – You can fill in the last word with whatever is appropriate to the situation. Saying ‘that sounds really…’ is a way of being non-judgemental and reflecting back what they’ve said, to show that you’ve heard and understood. You’re saying, without actually saying it, that they’re not alone in feeling like this and it’s really common to feel that way.

I get it – I can’t take credit for this one, it comes from the wonderful Brené Brown. But, if you don’t know what to say, go with ‘I get it’. A super simple way of letting someone feel heard.

I don’t know what to say right now, but I’m really glad you’ve told me this – I’m a big fan of being honest. If you don’t know what to say or how best to respond to something, then say so. Your honesty will make the other person feel much better than anything else you could say in that situation.

What shouldn’t you say to someone who is struggling with mental health?

things not to say to someone when they're struggling

I completely understand how you feel – You can’t understand exactly how someone else feels, even in the unlikely event that you’ve been in the exact same situation. Lots of people say this because they think it shows empathy. But all it does is make the conversation about you, when it should be about the other person. Saying this usually gets a bad response from others.

Why? Why not? – Asking questions that start with ‘why’ or ‘why not’ can come across as judgemental or sound as if you’re pointing the finger: Why did you do that? Why didn’t you just…? These types of questions can make someone put their defensive walls back up.

At least – Don’t try and put a silver lining on the cloud. It’s tempting to try and focus on the positives, e.g. ‘At least you still have a job’. But by doing that, you’re not acknowledging what that person is going through and diminishing that they’re experiencing something difficult right now. They just want to be heard & understood – so validate their feelings of how difficult this is for them.

When it comes to poor mental health, conversations can save lives. Remember, the most important thing is to make someone feel heard.

Learn more skills that help others with their mental health, take a look at my Mental Health First Aid training courses for individuals or organisations.