How to Help a Friend

You may wonder how to help a friend who is in distress. Most of the time, communicating your concerns and listening to your friend in a non-judgmental and supportive way is the best help you can provide.

At times, however, a friend's problems are more serious and this approach may not be enough. If any of the following apply, encourage your friend get professional help:

If your friend…

  • is always in distress of some kind
  • rarely seems to feel better for more than a little while
  • is isolating from family or close friends
  • stops taking care of themselves
  • is using an excessive amount of alcohol or other drugs
  • seems to be ruining close relationships with others
  • severely restricts calories, exercises excessively or binges/purges
  • feels desperate or hopeless that things will change
  • talks about wanting to hurt themselves or hurt someone else
  • has problems that are starting to feel overwhelming to YOU

In these situations, it may be helpful to:

  • Tell your friend about your concern. Say that you've noticed that they are in a lot of distress and ask what you can do to help. Avoid judgmental or provocative statements and instead focus on the facts (e.g.., “You aren't coming to class much and you seem really down all of the time; Some of us have noticed that you aren’t around much and we’re worried about you”).
  • Ask if your friend has considered talking to a professional counselor. Give your friend information about OMHS Counseling Center and, if you are comfortable doing so, offer to accompany them to the first appointment.
  • Talk confidentially with a OMHS Clinical Counselor or make a referral to the CARE Team. If your friend's problems seem severe or you are worried that they might hurt themselves or someone else, reach out for help! A clinical counselor can immediately respond, and/or the CARE Team can help determine a course of action, and coordinate with other campus offices to assist the student.

In spite of your best efforts, sometimes friends just won't be receptive to your suggestions. In those cases, it can be helpful to remind your friend that you are there if needed and then to respect your friend's wish not to get help. A major exception to this is when a friend has talked about wanting to hurt or kill themselves or someone else. In these cases it is imperative that you get your friend help. Immediately share this information with OMHS Counseling Center staff, or call Campus Police at 911 or 607.844.6511.