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What do I say when I don’t know what to say?

It’s not always easy to find the right words when someone is struggling. It can feel daunting and sometimes we worry about saying the wrong thing so we don’t say anything at all.

Illustration of two people in phones connecting with each other

Here are a few tips about how you can offer support when you see someone else struggling on TalkLife or anywhere else on or offline.

1. Reactions are great but…

When we're online, it sometimes feels easier to hit a quick reaction button and send someone a hug or some support rather than writing a comment and having to think about what to say. But have you ever thought about also writing a short comment telling someone why you reacted to their post? It’s a really nice way to support!

Here are some examples of what to say:

  • “I’ve sent you a hug because I wanted to let you know I care”

  • “I’m feeling the same as you, I didn’t know what to say but I wanted to let you know”

2. Use open questions

If you’re struggling with what to say to someone, why not try asking them an open question and see if you can get them to open up a bit more about how they are feeling? Open questions are ones that don’t lend themselves to yes or no answers, they encourage people to say a little more.

For example, if you don't know what to say, you can ask:

  • “How are you feeling?”

  • “What’s that like for you?”

  • “What’s going on for you at the moment?”

By taking the time to try and understand more about what’s going on for someone you’re showing that you care and that you are interested in them. Try and keep your questions open if you can, although this isn’t always possible and there are no rules!

3. Summarize and reflect what someone is saying

Another way of being supportive is to summarize or reflect back someone’s comment. It might sound strange but this can show someone that you have really heard and understood what they are saying.

For example, you could say something like this:

  • “It sounds like you’re feeling really upset that your mum isn’t listening to you-that must be hard”

  • “I can hear that you are feeling really sad at the moment and want to let you know I’m thinking of you”

  • “It sounds like you are really going through a hard time at the moment and you’re not finding much hope in the world, have I understood right?”

4. Give short words of encouragement

Sometimes just a few short words to let someone know you’re thinking of them can make a real difference to how someone is feeling. Just saying to someone that you’ve read what they’ve written, that you care and they’re not alone can make a big difference.

If you’re commenting online, try to give someone a little bit of context around why you're saying something. Instead of saying ‘same’ or ‘me too’ in response to a comment why not tell them a little bit more about what you’re going through and how you can relate?

For example, you could say:

  • “I wanted to let you know that I’m going through something similar at the moment and also finding it really tough. It isn’t easy but for me knowing I wasn’t the only one helped.”

  • “Sending you a big hug, you’re stronger than you know and you can get through this”

5. Know your own limits

If you’re talking to someone who is suicidal and you don't know what to do, or if you start to feel out of your depth or that you need a break, it’s important that you know your limits. If someone is at immediate risk, signpost them to the "I need help section" on TalkLife in the sidebar.

If you feel like you're reaching the limit of what you can handle and support with, you can say: “I’m worried about you and I want to make sure you have enough support right now so please consider getting in touch with one of these organizations that can help.”

Don’t feel pressure to have to keep talking to someone. It’s ok to say that you’re sorry but you don’t think you’re the right person to be supporting them at the moment. It’s super important to look after yourself too.

Remember, you don’t have to try and solve other people’s problems and you’re not there to give advice. You're allowed not to know what to do! You are not responsible for someone else and you don’t have to try and help everyone or indeed anyone.

And if you do decide to reach out to someone, as long as you are trying to be supportive, there isn’t really a right or a wrong thing to say and it’s very unlikely that anything you say would make someone feel worse. It can make someone feel better just by knowing someone cares enough to stop and respond to them.

TalkLife is all about showing people they are not alone and that there are people out there who care. You have the ability to support someone just by being there and being you.

"I still don't know what to say..."

Still feeling unsure? We asked the TalkLife community what to say when you don't know what to say. Here’s what some of them had to say about it:

What would you want to hear?

“If someone was nervous about commenting on a post I would ask them to think about how it feels when they get comments on their own posts. The feeling of not getting a comment is no one’s favorite feeling. A short comment saying nice words can help a lot of people”

Reflect on your intentions

“I would tell them not to be afraid. Tell them as long as you are trying to help them then say it. You might even save their life”

Be honest

“If you don’t know what to say, you can say that! People want to be acknowledged and feel support, it can feel vulnerable to post something about ourselves, sometimes there aren’t words to help, but showing up is what’s most important.”

Go for it!

“If you wanna help or give words of wisdom just go for it, that’s why we are on here!”

So why not give it a go and reach out to someone today…you never know, your words could make a huge difference and you might even get something out of it for you too.


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