How to help: A guide for friends
When a friend is struggling, you may notice some of the following signs:
- Changes in sleep, eating patterns, or weight
- Physical aches and pains and/or lack of energy
- Loss of interest in activities
- Depressed mood
- Decreased motivation
- Comments about suicide or death
- Excessive tension or worry
- Restlessness, irritability, hyperactivity, pressured speech
- Excessive alcohol or drug use
- Decline in academic performance; drop in class attendance
- Social withdrawal
- Self-injury (e.g., cutting, scratching, or burning)
- Unusual or exaggerated response to certain events (e.g., overly suspicious, excessively agitated, or easily startled)
What is your role?
It’s understandable that you’re concerned, but what is your role in this situation?
Involve yourself only as much as you are willing or comfortable. At times, in an attempt to reach or help a troubled friend, you may become more involved than your time or skill permits. It is important to know your boundaries and limitations and to know when you need help.
Discuss your concerns with your friend directly
If you are willing and comfortable, consider the following tips:
Talk to your friend privately. This may help minimize embarrassment and defensiveness.
Be honest and specific about your concerns. Explain why you want to talk.
Example: “I am really worried about how you are doing. It seems like you might be depressed and I want to try to understand what is going on for you. “
Describe your observations in a non-judgmental way.
Example: “For the past two weeks, I’ve noticed that you spend a lot of time in bed, you don’t seem to enjoy spending time with anyone, you’re not going to class, I hear you crying in your room, and you’re drinking a lot more than you used to.”
Express your feelings.
Example: “I care about you and I am really worried seeing you like this.”
Offer your recommendations.
Example: “I wish I could make this better for you, but I don’t have the training to be most helpful to you. I think it is a good idea for you to talk to someone like your RA, or an AD in Residence Life, or someone at the Counseling Center… whomever you feel most comfortable with. I’ll go with you if you like.”
You don’t have to do it alone!
Consultations at the Counseling Center are free and confidential. A therapist can help you identify options to help your friend and provide support for you as well. Depending on the issue, the therapist may suggest that you inform someone (e.g., an administrator or parent) who can take action to directly address the problem and help the student in need. In emergency situations (i.e., when a student may be in immediate danger) the therapist may alert specific people to protect the student’s safety.
If you are not comfortable talking with your friend directly or the person is unwilling to follow your referral recommendations, it is important that you share your concern with others.