How to Help a Friend

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Are you worried about a friend?

Here are some guidelines to approaching a friend who may be struggling with a mental health problem:

Pick a setting

Talking about your concerns can be uncomfortable for both people. Pick a place where you both feel safe, but emphasize your friend's comfort. It should be a place where they feel on equal footing with you. Privacy is essential. Pick a time with flexibility. The conversation may be short, but just in case, make sure neither of you have anywhere to be immediately. You don't want to have to stop the conversation.

Avoid an ambush

You are several other people may be concerned about your friend, but approaching them one-on-one is the best practice. It prevents the friend from feeling overwhelmed and attacked. Don't be afraid to involve a friend's parent (if they're on good terms) or a professional. Your friend may be angry, but sometimes you need back-up.

Be prepared

Whether it's the first conversation or the fifth, be prepared to give your friend some resources to check out. Always carry the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Know how to contact and utilize the counseling center or local mental health services. Once you've had the conversation, your friend may want you to go with them when they call or go to their first appointment. 

Take care

Your friends are lucky to have you looking out for them. But sometimes distress keeps them from appreciating you. Be prepared to be met with anger, denial and/or rejection. Know that you're doing the right thing, and their reaction isn't about you. Have your own support network. Helping a friend through a tough time can be hard on the helpers, too. Make sure you are looking after your own physical and mental health. 

There are many more detailed resources about how to help a friend. For more information, please see:

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'. 

  • 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?

Formulating "I" statements

"I" statements are a critical tool when broaching any delicate topic with a friend. These statements help you express your concern without seeming judgmental and encourage conversation and problem-solving. 

Start with 

Continue with 

For example 

 I feel...

 Emotion

I feel concerned 

 When...

Situation

 when you can't get out of bed

Because... 

 Why

 because I care about you. 

I'm wondering...

 Suggestion

I'm wondering if it would help to talk to a counselor.

 

voices

  • Jacob Kreeger from Active Minds at Muhlenberg College says:

    jake_kreeger_-_muhlenberg"Though it may seem like an insurmountable endeavor, there are those out there who are willing to talk, willing to engage, and willing to make a difference. Not always having felt this way, it was Active Minds that first offered me this encouragement."