Friends are often the first contact when students are looking for help. It can be difficult to know how to support a friend when we aren’t sure how to respond. Often we worry that we might make things worse by saying or doing the wrong thing.
Sometimes a friend just needs someone to listen and other times it is important to recognize when a situation is beyond your level of expertise.
If a friend or classmate is acting in ways that may be harmful to themselves or others, or that they may be in emotional crisis, get help now and enlist a professional to assist with the situation.
Recognizing a Friend in Distress
Any one of the following symptoms does not absolutely indicate serious distress. However, several signs and changes, which may be extreme or sudden, may point to potential mental health concerns.
Signs and Symptoms
Check in with your friend if you notice changes in any of the following:
- Emotional Control
- Interactions with others
- Tired appearance
- Appetite/weight changes
- Isolation from friends/family
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Level of substance use
Respond to a Friend
If you notice any of these signs or changes, the next step is to let your friend know that you are there for them and would like to support them. Try to find a time when your friend is available and comfortable, and be sure to find a private location.
Refer a Friend
You can act as a resource to your friend by connecting them with professional or peer support when more help is needed. Always allow your friend to choose and empower them to help themselves.
Your friend may not want to talk, or may not access the resources that you suggest. It is important to respect their decision and point out that you are happy to listen when they are ready. The only exception to this is when the situation is an emergency.
Your own safety and well-being are as important as that of the person in distress. Recognizing the limits of what you can do is an important part of taking care of yourself and your friend.
Reach out for help for yourself if you experience any of the following as a result of helping:
- Your grades are impacted
- You are sleep deprived
- Your thoughts are distracted
- You feel overly depended on by your friend
You aren’t alone and you don’t need to have all the answers!
If you need more help please visit the Information and Resources section to find the support you need.
Workshops and Resources
If you’re looking to learn more the Supporting a Friend Workshop is facilitated by fellow students who understand how tough it can be to have these conversations.
There is also a Supporting a Friend (pdf, 233KB) folder for students to use if you find yourself trying to support a friend and you are unsure of what to do. This will help you recognize the varying levels of distress, respond to your friend, and refer them to any of the resources at your disposal.
You can also check out our Resource Finder page for a brief list of Campus, Community, and Phone resources that may be helpful in guiding the person who needs help.