Mental health is something many of us struggle with, so it can sometimes seem like no big deal to ignore. But what can you do when someone close to you seems like they are struggling more than they deserve to? How can you recommend therapy to someone who might benefit from professional help?

It can be a touchy topic to navigate, and a daunting task. 

How do you approach them and make them feel loved instead of attacked? How do you show your concern without making them feel pitied or looked down upon? The tips below make it easier to get someone the help they need while also being a kind, respectful friend.

Listen, and then ask questions

Try listening and then asking questions, instead of trying to give advice right off the bat. Resist the urge (that we all have) to provide unsolicited opinions. Show this person that you are here for them no matter what, that you care about them, and that you want to help. Take their perspective into account, without just brushing over their thoughts and feelings in order to fast-track your ultimate agenda. 

Really listen to what they have to say and make them feel heard. This conversation is ultimately about them and their struggle; try not to make it about your needs. 

A good place to start the ball rolling is to ask them what they’d like to look different in their life right now. Then ask what would need to happen for that to become reality. 

When you get to a detail where they don’t know how they could achieve it, ask if they would be willing to hear some potential solutions you have thought of. This is a great opportunity to introduce your idea and recommend therapy: “Maybe a therapist would have good ideas about what to do here.” 

Being forceful backfires, so remember that showing this person empathy, acceptance, and nonaggression is vital to having a productive conversation.

Do your research

Don’t just randomly suggest therapy to this person when they are feeling blue one day. If you think there is something bigger going on, do your research and think it through beforehand. What are the signs you noticed? Do those signs match what the person you care about is experiencing? Do NOT diagnose, but also make sure there’s something there before you dive in and recommend therapy.

Be serious and honest

Take this conversation seriously. Don’t suggest that your friend see a therapist in a joking, flippant way. Firstly, the person won’t take it seriously or act on the suggestion. Secondly, it might hit a nerve and hurt their feelings. If you are going to recommend therapy to someone you care about, bring it up in a respectful way. This is a serious matter, and it should be treated as such.

Side note, remember to also be honest. Don’t lie to the person you care about; often that just makes them feel manipulated and deceived. Honestly tell them how concerned you are, and that this suggestion is coming from a place of compassion and love.

Consider time and place

This one’s self-explanatory. Don’t just suggest therapy randomly while you guys are playing a video game or while you’re at a party with all of your friends. This is a sensitive subject, so do it privately and respectfully during a time where they are not currently in emotional breakdown or crisis. And most importantly, especially if you’re dating someone with depression: do NOT recommend therapy during an argument, because this will just hurt the person and potentially discourage them from help.

Keep it one on one

It might seem like a good idea at first to get a group of people together to recommend therapy to this person. You’re thinking it’ll be “intervention-style.” You might be nervous to talk alone, or want to show them that they have many people who are concerned about them. 

However, this will just make the person feel cornered. In addition, no one likes to know they’ve been talked about behind their backs. Have this conversation just be between you and them; that way it will feel more like a conversation than an ambush.

Prepare for defensiveness

The person you care about may get defensive, for a variety of reasons. They might feel attacked. They might think that they don’t need help. They might feel hurt by what you’re saying. They might be scared. For whatever reason, it is very possible that they will be playing defense. 

Be able to back up what you’re saying and have answers for their questions/arguments. While you do this, remember to address their concerns and provide reassurance that getting therapy is normal and positive. This is not an argument to be won, but rather a life to be improved. Don’t make them feel more lost while trying to help. 

Remember to bring up facts and positives, to be empathetic instead of sympathetic, and to remember that your words and the language you use matters.

Emphasize facts and positives

Like we said earlier, back up what you’re saying. Facts are everything.

Don’t attempt this conversation with generalizations and opinions that the person could disagree with. Don’t use your perspective as an argument. Facts are truths. They speak to people’s logical brain, leading to concrete change.

Try to focus on positive facts about therapy. Why is therapy good? What are positive outcomes? Don’t shame this person for what they are going through. Normalize therapy for them, and make them feel comfortable and knowledgeable going forward.

Be empathetic, not sympathetic

This one is straightforward, but be empathetic instead sympathetic. Sympathy often makes people feel worse. Pity feels condescending, patronizing, and belittling. You want to show them caring, not judgment. To achieve empathy, try to imagine having pain that you didn’t know how to relieve on your own. Imagine feeling lost and overwhelmed by your own mind. This may help you feel empathy and understand where the other person’s struggles come from. 

Remember that words matter

Watch your words carefully. Don’t make the person feel blamed for the mental and emotional struggle they’re going through. Saying “I think therapy might be a good thing for you” might be a better way to go than “You need to go to therapy”. Words like “must”, “should”, “need” take the agency from the person, and they’ll feel trapped instead of helped. Paint going to therapy and taking care of one’s mental health in a positive light.

Help them get there

Do some more research beforehand and provide resources. You can tell them that you’ll help them search for someone, or that you’ve already found some potential options. Make sure that they know that they do not have to go through this search alone.

In addition, offer to go with them to their session(s) if they want a companion. Sometimes having a person to go with can give people find strength in themselves that they wouldn’t otherwise. Remind them that you are not trying to abandon them or replace yourself in their life with a therapist. Professional help is just a different kind of support they could use in their lives

Know that it’s their decision

Ultimately, it’s their decision. You can’t force someone to get help, and you shouldn’t. If they don’t want to, they just don’t want to. This can be a very frustrating thing to accept. However, if you keep trying to force them, they might distance themselves from you during a time that they really need a social support system in their life. As long as you’ve tried your best, started that conversation, and shown that you will be there for them, you have gone above and beyond for the person you care about.

In parting, you’re awesome for wanting to help someone you know! Keep in mind that you can take steps to maintain your own wellbeing while helping someone else.

And before you offer help, refresh yourself on best practices for lending a hand.