How to Help a Friend

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Are you worried about a friend?

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Top three most important things to do:

  • Talk with your friend
  • Share your concern - help your friend get support from someone with mental health expertise
  • Take care of yourself

Many people feel that if they tell another person, they are betraying their friend. This is absolutely not the case. By telling someone, you are being the best friend possible and helping your friend get the support he or she needs.

Here are 10 more tips for helping a friend with a mental health concern:

1. Act now. If you are worried about a friend's behavior or attitude, talk with him or her as soon as possible. Don't wait to see if your friend starts to feel better. If your friend brings mental health concerns up with you, don't change the subject - ask questions, listen to ideas and be responsive. Do not be afraid to ask your friend directly if he/she has thought about suicide. You cannot plant the idea by asking. It is ALWAYS a good thing to ask. If you think your friend might be in immediate danger, make sure he/she is not left alone and immediately call 911 or the national suicide prevention hotline, 1-800-273-T1-800-273-TALK.

2. Meet your friend in a comfortable place where you can talk privately. Talk in a calm, nonjudgmental and considerate manner about the specific things you have seen or felt that caused you to worry about his or her health. Tell your friend clearly what behaviors you observed that are worrying you. Voice your concern in a supportive and careful way. Tell him or her that you want to help.

You can prepare and practice ahead of time. Outline for yourself the reasons you feel your friend needs help. Practice stating reasons for helping in a positive, non-blaming way, for example:

  • "I value our relationship and I am concerned that you seem depressed. You haven't been eating, you've been sleeping a lot, not socializing like usual, and talking about dying. I want to help".
  • Do not say "you're really depressed and you need help now!"

3. Listen, don't lecture. Listen to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non-threatening way. Communicate understanding by repeating back the essence of what you friend tells you.

Here are four tips:

  • Use "I" statements. For example, "I'm worried about your safety," or, "It makes me afraid to hear you talk about suicide."
  • Avoid "You" statements that sound critical. For example, "You're out of control!" or, "You must be crazy!"
  • Avoid giving simple solutions. For example, "Everything would be okay if you just stopped..."
  • Rather than jumping in with suggestions, ask what you can do to help.

4. Offer help. Remind your friend that mental health disorders are treatable and there is hope. Ask if they are getting the care they need. Encourage your friend to seek help. You can offer to go with them to talk to someone or to help identify and get the right kind of care. You can help by learning about possible treatment options. If your friend is willing to schedule an appointment, you can offer to assist by finding out phone numbers, letting him/her use your phone or walking him/her to the health clinic. If your friend is not immediately ready to seek help, you can help them develop a plan for getting it in the near future. Give advice in the form of options. For instance, recommend a health professional you know of or suggest support groups you think may help your friend work through the problem. Although it may be tempting to try and help your friend on your own, it is always safest to get help.

5. Be prepared for all possible reactions. Your friend may deny that he or she has a problem. Sometimes people react with hopeless statements saying "there is nothing anyone can do" or with anger "leave me alone - who asked for your help". Realize that this is the depression talking, so don't become defensive or give up. If your friend won't listen to you, you may need to tell someone else. Mental health concerns do not clear up on their own. Consider talking to an RA, a dean, your friend's parents, a teacher, a doctor, a counselor, or another trusted adult. If you're not sure what to do, always refer or ask for help. By telling someone, you are not betraying your friend, you are helping him or her. Counselors are available to talk with you about how to best help a friend.

6. Remember that you cannot make someone get help or change his or her attitudes and behaviors. You can make a significant difference by sharing your concerns, providing support, and knowing where to get more information. Offer emotional support, understanding, patience and encouragement.

7. Take care of yourself. Be sure to take time for yourself. It is important to pay attention to your own health while helping a friend. Know your limits, don't overextend yourself.

8. Although you may be willing to do anything and everything to help, don't try to take over your friend's life. Offer support, but be patient.

9. Mental health concerns are often hard to explain, and your friend may have trouble putting how he/she feels into words. Be reassuring and non-judgmental, and try your best to understand your friend's problem.

10. To be a good friend, never keep talk of suicide a secret, even if a friend has asked you to. Take any talk of suicide or suicidal plans seriously and seek help immediately from a trusted adult or health professional. Stay close and make sure your friend is not left alone. You can call a local emergency number, 911 or the national suicide prevention hotline, 1-800-273-TALK1-800-273-TALK. The important thing is to tell a responsible person who can help. If you are not sure whether the situation represents immediate danger, err on the side of caution and call 911.

(10 tips modified from mpoweryouth.org)

Still not sure how to approach your friend?

Here are some questions you could ask them that might help get you started. These examples can get you thinking about things to say and how to word the 'tough stuff'. Mostly, you should remember that you can't go wrong being yourself and a concerned, caring friend.

  • I've noticed that you haven't been acting like yourself lately. I'm worried about you, is something going on?
  • What can I do to help?
  • How can I help you?
  • How long have you been feeling this way?
  • Have you spoken with anyone else about all of this?
  • Can I help you find someone to see about your concerns?
  • Are you getting the care you need?
  • It makes me afraid to hear you talking about dying; there is hope for feeling better, can we talk to someone about this?
  • Do you want me to walk with you to the counseling center?
  • What do you feel like? What are you experiencing?
  • Have you been having thoughts about trying to kill yourself?
  • Have you ever had thoughts about hurting yourself?
  • Do you think you might be in immediate danger?

A few more suggestions...

 

Try this:


Avoid this:


Act sooner rather than later

Waiting to see if your friend feels better

Being direct and honest; talking openly

Acting shocked

Being positive; encouraging your friend

Being critical, skeptical or dismissive

Listen carefully

Agreeing to keep secrets

Show empathy, be supportive

Being patronizing or overpowering

Taking care of yourself

Lecturing

Seeking help from a professional; telling a trusted adult

Taking over your friend's life

Be available

Responding negatively

Be patient

Avoiding the concern or issue

Express concerns in specific terms

Judging your friend

Feel confident that your friend can get better

Giving up or getting discouraged

Be aware and non-judgmental

Getting defensive or angry

Asking what you can do to help

Telling your friend to 'snap out of it'

Trust your instincts

Ignoring your friend's concerns

Asking questions, be responsive

Suggesting you have all the answers

Educate yourself: Learn the warning signs

Being afraid of being wrong

Pay attention

Joking about the situation

Take talk of suicide very seriously

Asking "why"

Be natural, be yourself

Overextending yourself

Inviting your friend out for walks, activities and fun

Trying to diagnose your friend

Remind your friend there is hope

Managing the situation alone

 

 

voices

  • Carolyn Latkovich from Active Minds at Moravian College says:

    carolyn_latkovich_-_moravian"I am dedicated to spreading the word about important topics such as suicide awareness because I lost a close friend to suicide in high school... Active Minds provides an arena for college students to voice their opinions about mental health, share their personal experiences, and learn more about a subject that is otherwise ignored."