Helping Others

So much learning, so little time!

We’ve talked all about connecting with others and creating our very own support system. What’s left to talk about, then?


That’s right. Let’s talk about how we can help someone else.


Helping Others

Now it may seem a bit stressful at first to think that you might be part of someone else’s support system. You might think “how can I possibly help a friend? I’m not a doctor! What can I really do?”

But it’s important to remember that “everybody needs help sometimes and nobody has all the answers. Sometimes we can help others just by being supportive and listening. Other times, we can help by connecting them to people with more training and skills to support.” – OPH, How to talk about your MH



Helping Others

As a peer, you play a very important role because before youth reach out to professional supports, like doctors and therapists, they tend to reach out to friends and peers first!

In fact, the Centre for KnowKnowledge Institute on Child and Youth Mental Health and Addictions did an Ontario-wide survey and found that “the most common form of mental health support young people have sought since the beginning of the pandemic is that from friends, family or a trusted adult (79%)” – COE

This reminder makes it even more important for all of us to know what to do when a peer, friend or family member reaches out to us for help. We can’t NOT talk about it!


What is a Peer?

When a youth helps another youth, we often hear the words peer support to describe it.

A peer is someone just like you! They are the people around us who are close in age, have similar experiences or abilities.


What is Peer Support?

Peer support then, is when two or more people who are peers help each other either emotionally or practically.

A peer supporter can be someone who is trained to offer support and advice – just like our facilitators at YouthNet! – or just a friend or peer who wants to be a source of help, comfort, or understanding.


What is Peer Support?

In mental health, peer support can come from someone who either understands mental health or has their own lived experience with mental health issues, which they can draw on to help guide others.


When do you support a friend?

You might be wondering – How will I know if it is the right time to support a friend? How will I know that they are struggling with their mental health?

There are a few signs that can tell us when to be concerned.


When do you support a friend?

We can think of our mental health like an iceberg.

Some signs we can easily see because they’re floating above the water, and others are harder to see because they’re underwater.


Things we can often see include:

  • Emotions, like whether someone is visibly stressed or upset (e.g., crying),
  • changes in someone’s appearance,
  • changes in the way someone talks,
  • changing behaviours (e.g., like withdrawing from people and social situations)

Things we can't often see include:

  • how someone is really feeling,
  • problems they may be having at home,
  • thoughts,
  • brain chemistry,
  • relationships with others, and
  • much more!



When do you support a friend?

Rule of thumb to follow: Check in with a friend if you notice any BIG changes. You know your friends and peers best, so you are more likely to notice these changes!

For example, you might easily notice that someone you see everyday starts missing class, maybe you don’t see them at lunch anymore, and they’ve quit all their activities and you notice they’ve stopped posting on social media when they used to post all the time. Would any of these changes make you wonder whether something is going on for them?


When do you support a friend?

Not all changes are negative changes like missing school or isolating oneself.

There can be changes that are sometimes positive (or at least appear positive on the outside) but may still be a red flag that something is going on emotionally, mentally, or physically for someone. Can you think of any?


Maybe it’s:

  • Over exercising or dieting
  • Spending all their time studying
  • Spending all their time indoors watching TV or playing video games
  • Filling up their schedule to be really busy
  • A romantic relationship or friendship that maybe doesn’t leave them feeling great
  • Suddenly being overly positive or extremely social

When do you support a friend?

Beyond noticing these changes, you might also be the first person a peer or friend opens up to about something tough they’re going through. These kinds of situations can be challenging for anyone. You might feel a range of emotions like nervousness, confusion, sadness, and maybe even frustration because you’re not sure how to help.

That’s ok. These are natural feelings and you don’t have to know what to do all the time!


When do you support a friend?

REMEMBER: You aren’t a mental health professional! Regardless of what it is, if ever you are worried about a friend, know that you do NOT have to handle it alone. Reach out to a trusted adult or support of your own and just focus on being a “positive peer” to your friend 🙂


Being a Positive Peer

Speaking of being a positive peer… Let’s discuss all the ways we can support someone who is struggling:

First, just think about what qualities make a good friend and what you might want if you needed help.



ACTIVITY TIME: What's Your Support Style?

What's Your Support Style?

There are lots of different ways that we CAN help our friends and loved ones and we all have different styles of how we offer support… We like to see supporting others as a skill that is carefully learned and honed over years of our lives, and our particular style might even change as we grow and change ourselves!! So take our quiz to find out what your special brand of support is! And remember - you can be more than one!

Question 1

You find out your best friend was just dumped by their partner. Do you:

1. Bake them cookies and bring them to their door
2. Immediately offer to set-up some dates for them, pick out a cute new date outfit, and do their homework while they recover from the heartbreak
3. Call them right away and ask them how they are feeling and tell them you’re on their team!
4. Show up at their door, bring popcorn and watch your favourite movie together.

Question 2

Your friend is upset at school because of a bad grade. Do you:

1. Bring them to see the teacher to see what they can do to make up the grade, and take notes so you can help with the plan!
2. Offer to skip class and go to the mall with them.
3. Put a post-it note on their locker saying how amazingly intelligent, caring and great they are
4. Sneak a little candy treat into their locker so they can enjoy & make it through the day!

Question 3

You find out your friend’s family is going through a really hard time (e.g., parents are separating, death in the family). Do you:

1. Invite them over to your place so they can talk & hang out for hours!
2. Give them a jar filled with slips of paper that each list one of their amazing qualities
3. Send them their birthday gift early this year (they need it now!)
4. Offer to go to some local resources with them and set up appointments with mental health supports in case they just need someone to talk to

Question 4

Your friend is in a fight with someone at school and the person calls them a name. Do you:

1. Spend hours creating the perfect revenge plan to get back at them!
2. Give them the perfect pep talk to get them hyped to stand up for themselves! Go friend go!
3. Make them a personalized frame for their locker with a picture of you both in it so they always remember they are supported
4. Plan the perfect hang-out filled with all their favourite things (food, movies etc.) and let them know you’re all theirs today!

Question 5

Your friend has just been diagnosed with a chronic pain condition and is struggling to manage everything going on in their life, and their pain. Do you:

1. Let them know that you got them by making a schedule with all their assignments and due dates, and do up a list of chores you can do for them
2. Give them a call and just hang out on the phone - that way you can hang out and not have to move from the couch!
3. Make a list of all of the reasons they are killing it - then call them and leave them a voicemail reading out everything!
4. Make and package some of their favourite meals and deliver them to their house so they don’t even need to cook!

Question 6

Your friend is struggling to come out to their family. They don’t think their family will be supportive. Do you…

1. Get your friend everything you can find/make that has a rainbow so you can show up to class the next day with new matching rainbow outfits
2. Buckle down and make a plan. Write out as many scripts as possible and workshop which one would be better. Make sure to add no pressure, but get them prepared - just in case!
3. Invite them to spend more time with you (even on zoom!) and try to create a safe space for them while with you. Whether you’re just doing homework or watching a movie together, you help make them feel that they’re ALWAYS welcome!
4. Give them the pep talk of their life - but also let them know that it’s okay if they don’t feel like coming out. They’ll know when the time is right!

Question 7

Your friend is having a really bad week and you know they suffer from depression. Do you…

1. Make a scrapbook with a collection of all the awesome times you’ve had, plus a section on all the awesome things you guys still have to do together!
2. Ask if it’s okay to come over and just sit with them. They can talk, or not talk, no pressure - but if it’s okay for them, you can be there so they’re not alone.
3. Send them a long text sharing why they’re an amazing human being to you and you’re grateful they are in your life. They don’t have to read it now, but they’ll know it’s there if they ever need a little pick-me-up!
4. Offer to help them with their homework or to talk to the teacher about getting an extension for them. You recognize what a struggle it can be!

Question 8

Your parent/guardian is having a tough time with money right now. They seem stressed about bills piling up. Do you…

1. Offer to take a bigger role in helping around the house, coming up with specific tasks you may not normally do, so they can feel a little less stressed outside of work
2. Spend more time with them, especially when they’re stressed. On weekends, suggest some activities you can do together that don’t cost money
3. Let them know that you know they’re doing the best they can and that you appreciate them. You know they need to hear it!
4. Take up knitting and knit them a new pair of gloves (you notice the ones they’re wearing now are worn and need to be thrown out!)

Question 9

Your friend is really upset because they didn’t make the basketball team. Do you…

1. Sit with them as they cry and console them. You won’t leave until they feel better!
2. Offer to plan out a schedule for training. Let them know that you want to do what it takes to help them get in next time - even if that means learning basketball yourself!
3. Make them a video of all of the clips you have of them being a boss on the court! Add some funky music and send it to them!
4. Tell them 101 reasons why they are definitely an amazing basketball player (and friend) and why that coach made the worst decision of their life!

Question 10

Your sibling is upset because their field trip to New York (that they’ve been looking forward to all year) got cancelled because of COVID. Do you…

1. Order them some classic New York merch, so even if they didn’t get to go there this year - they can still look the part!
2. Plan out your own trip to New York and all the things you would do together! When COVID is over, you’ll try to convince your parents/guardians to take you!
3. Let them know that there’ll be other opportunities to go to even better places! And remind them of all the awesome places they’ve already been!
4. Do a sleepover in your room and watch movies about New York until you both fall asleep! At least we can feel like we’re there!

All 10 questions completed!

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What's Your Support Style?

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Positive Peer Check-List!

  • Always start by listening! Make time to talk, ask genuine questions, and be attentive to what they say.
  • Don’t judge them. We are all trying to navigate this crazy, big world and all experiencing it in our own unique way. So even if your friend expresses a feeling or experience that seems confusing or unfamiliar to you, try to just listen without making any assumptions about them.
  • Let them know that you are there for them. Think about what you would like to hear when you’re struggling. That may be things like “I’m here for you.” or “I care about you.” or “I’m here if ever you want to talk.”. Chances are, even if they don’t feel comfortable about opening up right away, they’ll at least know that you are a safe and supportive person to talk to in the future.



Positive Peer Check-List!

  • Ask what they need. Don’t offer advice if they don’t ask for it! We usually mean well when we try to give advice, but if your friend just wants to be comforted, that is something you can do. Avoid toxic positivity (e.g., pushing someone to “just be happy” or pointing out that “things could be worse”) and just offer what you can if it feels right to you (e.g., sometimes just offering to hang out and watch a movie with no pressure to talk is a way of giving support)
  • Know the resources! Now that the conversation is open, you can connect your friend to a trusted adult or a helpful resource. If they don’t seem open to it, you can offer to call a crisis line with them or be there when they talk to someone like a guidance counselor or their parents. Don’t worry, we’ll go over lots of resources next!
  • Offer what you can, and remember your boundaries. If you ever feel like a situation with a friend is too much pressure for you, you can tell your friend that you’ll still be there for them, but that you can’t support one another all alone and that it’s important that they also have a trusted adult and/or professional as a main support.



Positive Peer Check-List!

Just keep being there! Sometimes what helps someone the most is just showing that you’re there and that you’re not going to abandon them just because they’re going through a hard time.

When someone is struggling with their mental health, it can sometimes make a person feel like they’re not worth other people’s time or care, so try to be understanding when someone doesn’t always text back, keep inviting them to things even if they say no, don’t be afraid to send them something out of the blue that you both think is funny/uplifting or message a little reminder that you miss them – essentially, just continuing to extend friendship and kindness can make all the difference.



Toxic Positivity

Positive thinking is a great mental health tool! But toxic positivity happens when positive thinking is pushed or forced on someone as the best (or only) way to deal with their problems.

You might hear people say things like:

  • “Just be happy”
  • “Things could be worse”
  • “Everything happens for a reason”

While these may sound like a good or encouraging messages, forcing positivity on others can invalidate the way someone is feeling, make them feel weak because they are struggling to be positive, and leave their problems unaddressed or ignored.

Acknowledge that life is hard! You are so strong for admitting how things make you feel.


Know the Resources!


Reach Out When You Need To!

Remember: It’s ALWAYS okay to reach out. We’ll all need different things at different times and as an extra stressful time in most people’s lives right now, we need all the support we can get! Never be afraid to reach our or, at least know WHO to reach out to cuz you never know when a friend might need to know…


A Note on Self-Care

Airplane analogy: Have you ever heard the saying “put your own oxygen mask on first”? This saying is announced before every single flight when they go over safety protocols on an airplane.

Why do they say this?

Well, in an emergency, while you may want to support someone else who needs help reaching their oxygen mask right away (e.g., like a small child), it’s actually critical that you get your oxygen mask on before doing anything else because you may only be capable of helping another person if you’ve taken care of your own needs first.



This may sound odd when we apply this example to helping someone struggling with their mental health, but it’s basically the same logic: When we help ourselves first, we are making sure that we are in a stable or healthy enough place to help someone else. We won’t be much help if we don’t know our own boundaries, overextend ourselves, or are feeling so rundown and exhausted that we’re now struggling too!

TAKEHOME POINT: Helping yourself first isn’t selfish, is self-care!



Phew – That was a lot to discuss, right? Don’t worry, you can come back to this information at any time or view the Youth Engagement Module section to learn more ways to make a difference, get involved, support one another, access resources to improve mental health among your friends, peers and community.


We hope this info makes you feel a little more comfortable with some not so comfortable conversations. Remember – you are an amazing human being that made it this far in life already, so don’t get discouraged. The more we talk about mental health, the easier it is to support others and help them get the help they need.




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