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What to say when someone tells you they're fine, but they're not

Fine. Okay. Alright. We’ve all had someone tell us they were one of those things and known that it couldn’t be further from the truth. Maybe it was the look on their face, the tone of their voice, or their body language that gave them away – or maybe you’ve noticed that they have been acting differently lately. Distress can show up in many ways.

Whether someone thinks they are doing a good job of masking their emotions, or they are obviously being sarcastic when they say that they’re alright, it’s normal to want to help in some way. While what you say will likely be different depending on how well you know the person, here are some ideas for things to say to create an environment that encourages someone to open up about what they’re going through.

  • “Are you sure? If you want to talk, let me know.”
  • “It seems like something is bothering you. I’m here to listen if you want to share.”
  • “I’ve been ‘fine’ before – I’m here if you want to talk about it.”
  • “Do you want to (get coffee/go to lunch/grab a bite/take a walk) later? I feel like we have a lot to catch up on.”
  • “That wasn’t very convincing – I’m here if you want to chat.”

Someone is opening up to you. Now what?


  • Listen. Really listening means actively paying attention to the person who is speaking and resisting the urge to talk about personal experiences unless asked. This is hard for everyone, but practice helps!
  • Ask if they’ve thought about what they might need to feel better. If they haven’t, offer to support, listen, and talk it out with them. If they have, support them in following through with their needs.
  • Make sure to keep things confidential, unless it is life threatening.
  • Normalize. Assure the person you’re talking to that having a mental health concern is common, and there are lots of resources to help them feel better.
  • Prepare to follow up. It takes courage for someone to speak up about what is bothering them. Exchange contact information (if you don’t have it already) and touch base in a few days to see how the person is feeling and if there is anything you can do to help. You may want to research some resources like websites, hotlines, text lines, and community organizations so you can be prepared to offer them if it seems appropriate.


  • Tell them, “You shouldn’t think that way.” It can be difficult to have conversations about mental health concerns, and they may have worried about it for some time before talking to you.
  • Use the word “crazy.”
  • Tell someone what they SHOULD do; instead, ask what they want you to help them with.
  • Assume that they want your advice. Many times, people just want someone else to listen to them and help them feel less alone.
  • Make comparisons. Telling someone “it could be worse” minimizes their experience and invalidates their feelings.
  • Take on trying to fix all the person’s problems. Offer help where appropriate, but don’t get into a trap of trying to solve the problem, especially if it seems like a professional should be involved.

Visit for additional information and resources about how to support someone who is struggling with their mental health.

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