How to Help a Friend
If you know or suspect your friend is struggling with a concern with which counseling may help, don’t be afraid to speak up.
When to be Concerned About a Friend
Everyone has or will feel down or upset at least once in their life. When these feelings persist or begin interfering with school, work or relationships, it may be a cause for concern. If you notice any of these signs, your friend may need assistance:
- Excessive fatigue
- Visible change in their appearance, weight or hygiene
- Frequently missing classes
- Anger or hostility
- Increased crying or tearfulness
- Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
- Suicidal thoughts (saying they feel hopeless or referring to suicide as an option)
How to Help
Perhaps you’ve noticed a friend exhibiting the signs above or a friend has approached you about their concern, here are the important guidelines to remember:
Find a private and comfortable place to talk. Be sure you or your friend is not rushed or preoccupied.
Tell the person clearly and directly what you have observed that causes you to become concerned. This lets them know you care enough about them to notice and could make it more difficult for them to deny that a concern exists.
- "Every time I see you, you look like you have been crying. You don't seem like your usual self. You have been missing a lot of classes. You always appear sad. In class I see you just kind of staring off..."
- "Every time I see you, you look angry. I hear you talk with your friends and it always seems like you are arguing. I don't know exactly how much you are drinking, but it seems like I see you coming in late a lot, and usually you look intoxicated"
Tell the person how you feel, or what it generates in you when you observe these things. Distressed individuals are typically responsive to an expression of genuine concern and interest in their well-being. Assure them that resolving issues through counseling isn’t a sign of failure or weakness but of courage and strength.
- "When I put that all together, I get concerned about how you are doing. I wonder if you have too much stress or too many things to deal with right now. I get concerned about you"
- "You worry me. I am not sure you are OK. Maybe you have too much to handle by yourself"
Listen to your friend without rushing to correct or disagree with what they tell you. Validate what they say by acknowledging their current situation. Do not judge or criticize them for what they say.
Let them know about Counseling and Psychological Services, including that it is voluntary and confidential and that some services are no additional cost.
- "I want to make sure you know that we have a counseling center for students here. Some services are no additional cost, and all you have to do is call 402.472.5000 and make an appointment. It's also confidential"
- "Have you ever considered going to the counseling center on campus? Some services are no additional cost. It's confidential. They can help you figure out and plan, or put together what might be bothering you. They know college students pretty well there"
If appropriate, offer to come with them on the first visit, but encourage them to make the appointment themselves.
- "You need to make your own appointment, but if you want a little moral support, I'd be glad to walk over with you and introduce you"
Take Care of Yourself
Know your limitations and remember that your role is not to be a hero but to provide support. When your priority is to show a friend that you care about a concern they’re facing, you may begin to feel stress because you are taking on too much responsibility. Don’t let a friend’s situation overwhelm you to the point of performing poorly in your academic career, disrupting your self-care habits or preventing you from enjoying your life.
If you are struggling with this situation, call Counseling and Psychological Services at 402.472.5000 to speak with a therapist who can help you navigate your concern.