1. How are you?
This is a simple yet effective way to start the conversation. If they give you a one-word answer like 'good' or 'okay,' you can gently press for more info by asking what's been going on in their life
2. Hey, I've noticed you've been less bubbly/chatty/happy than normal, is everything okay?
This shows you've been looking out for them and that you care about their wellbeing
3. Everything alright?
This can be a more subtle way to hint that you've noticed that they haven't quite been their usual self
4. You feeling okay?
Similar to the above, this can help them feel seen and heard
5. What's been happening with (something that's going on in their life)
Whether it's a fight with a boyfriend or struggling with school exams, you may want to enquire about a particular situation you know they've been dealing with
6. How's it all going?
This can be a more casual way to ask 'how are you', while prompting a more open-ended response than just a one-word reply
7. How are things?
As above, this opens the channels of communication for them to talk about what's going on in their life
8. What's been happening?
Asking for specifics about what's going on in their life can help you dig for any warning signs they might be struggling
9. Let me know if you ever need to chat about anything
Simply letting them know that you're always there to listen can be extremely powerful.
10. Is there anything you need to vent about?
They may have tried to avoid opening up about their issues so as to not feel like a 'burden', so this gives them the perfect opportunity. You can even start by venting about an issue of your own so they feel more comfortable.
Of course, asking the question is only part of the equation. It's important to listen (and we mean really listen) without judgment and interruption. RUOK offers these tips for listening effectively
- Take what they say seriously and don't interrupt or rush the conversation.
- Don’t judge their experiences or reactions but acknowledge that things seem tough for them.
- If they need time to think, sit patiently with the silence.
- Encourage them to explain: "How are you feeling about that?" or "How long have you felt that way?"
- Show that you've listened by repeating back what you’ve heard (in your own words) and ask if you have understood them properly.
Then, you can encourage them to take action, whether that's by asking them how they're dealt with similar situations before or sharing what helps you when dealing with similar things.
If you think they could benefit from professional help, you can also gently suggest they see their doctor or the school counsellor. Beyond Blue and Headspace are two other awesome organisations that can help support those who are struggling with depression or anxiety. While they're not a service provider, preventative mental health organisation batyr also runs programs that educate young people on what mental health is, how to start a conversation and how to reach out for support when you need it. So if you think you or your friends at school would benefit, chat to your teacher about bringing batyr to your High School.
There's absolutely nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to mental health. We ALL go through tough times sometimes, so let's all be there for each other and check in with the people we love — on RUOK Day and beyond!
WATCH: How To Handle Social Media After A Breakup