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University Counseling Center

Helping a Friend

Are you concerned about a friend, but don’t know how or where to begin to help?

If you see some of these signs, a friend may need your help

  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping all the time.
  • A change in physical appearance.
  • Increase or decrease in weight.
  • Increased use of alcohol and/or substance abuse.
  • Apathy – loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed.
  • Mood swings – unprovoked anger or hostility.
  • Withdrawal from friends – becoming socially isolated.
  • Missing classes and not preparing assignments.
  • Overly unhappy, discouraged – tearful or lack of emotion.
  • Preoccupation with death – talking about suicide.

Some general guidelines to assist you when you sense that a friend needs your help.

Find a private place to talk when both you and your friend have time to sit down without being disturbed or rushed.

  • Most people are more receptive to a serious discussion when no one else is around and time is not a factor.

Explain your concerns using “I” statements giving specific examples.

  • Tell your friend what you have observed.
  • Examples of “I” statements are good ways to begin your conversation.
    • “I have noticed that you have skipped the last four bio classes.”
    • “I am concerned because you’ve seemed to be so sad and withdrawn recently.”
    • “I am worried about you because you seem to always be sleeping when I come by to see you”

Listen! Be supportive, compassionate and respectful of your friend’s feelings.

  • Actively listen to what is being said. Look directly at your friend. Ask open-ended questions if you don’t understand.
  • Now is not the time to interrupt to agree, disagree, fix or advise even if your friend asks your opinion. It is difficult to see a person’s problems from their perspective.
  • Summarize to make sure you have a mutual understanding. “It sounds as though.” A friend who feels as though they have been understood will be more receptive to hearing advice from you.

Validate your friend’s situation.

  • Understand and acknowledge your friend’s feelings. Nodding your head without agreeing or disagreeing shows that you are listening.
  • Statements to avoid are those that trivialize the problem such as: “Don’t worry about it” or “Tomorrow is another day – things will get better.”

Develop a plan by brainstorming ideas and options.

  • Analyze the benefits of each idea.
  • Help develop a plan of action. Get the names and numbers of those resources available on or off campus that might be of help. (Clergy, family, RAs, University Counseling Center, University Health Service, etc.)
  • Roleplay a solution if your friend is willing.

Always be honest and know your limitations.

  • Consult with a professional when you feel overwhelmed and involved in an uncomfortable situation. Realize that you are helping your friend by contacting those with experience and knowledge.
  • If you get a sense that something is very wrong, tell your friend your concerns and what you are planning to do.
  • If your friend tells you that he has thoughts or desires to hurt himself or herself or someone else, outside help is needed.

Keep in touch with your friend.

  • Contact your friend regularly encouraging continued dialogue.

Take care of yourself.

  • Stress is often the result of reaching out to a friend. Make sure you do not get overly involved and try to solve the problem alone.

Respect your friend’s wishes, but don’t make a promise you cannot keep.