How to Help a Friend

“He’s stopping coming to class…I’m worried about him.”

“I’m afraid that my roommate has an eating disorder.”

“Every time I see her, she’s drunk. She’s not doing well. ”

“I think he could hurt himself…what do I do?” hero-friends

These are just a few statements we’ve heard from students at the TU Counseling Center. These friends look similar to our ongoing clients. They’re worried, stressed, and concerned about a fellow student.

It won’t likely surprise you to hear that many TU students are struggling. The statistics are concerning. The 2013 National College Health Assessment study found that about one-third of U.S. college students struggled to function in the last year because of symptoms of depression. The Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State found that around 30% of clients at University Counseling Centers across the country have seriously considered suicide.

You’ve likely had a friend who you were concerned about but felt uncertain how you could be helpful. Perhaps you’ve worried that bringing up problems could make the friend feel uncomfortable, or worse, angry at you. Maybe you’ve tried to help already and felt some pushback. We’d urge you to not give up. As a friend, you’re positioned to possibly have an influence. The goal shouldn’t be to fix the problem (whatever it is that your friend is struggling with), but to show support and assist the friend in getting help from professionals.

When considering approaching someone who is struggling, it’s common to feel some discomfort. Keep in mind the goal of the intervention: to assist your friend with obtaining access to help. Here’s some steps for reaching out to your friend:

  1. The conversation should take place in a private setting, away from distractions. Avoid planning a large intervention as one on one will likely work best. Everyone involved should be clear headed so avoid talking after getting back from a party.
  1. Begin by expressing concern for your friend’s well-being, or safety if relevant. Share examples, things that your friend has done or said. Something like “I’ve noticed X, Y and Z. I’m worried about you.”
  2. Allow space for your friend to respond to your concerns. Listen carefully, demonstrating empathy and a non-judgmental attitude.
  1. Share information about campus resources, encouraging your friend to make appointments as soon as able. Be willing to help your friend make these appointments, maybe dialing the phone number or walking the friend to the building. If your friend doesn’t want to seek services on campus, help them find options off campus. The Counseling Center’s Community Providers Database might be helpful.
  2. Don’t let this be the last conversation about your concerns. Check in periodically to offer additional encouragement and support. If your friend isn’t open to making appointments when you first try, don’t give up. You might say “I still want you to think about getting some help. What do you think?”
  1. Supporting someone who is struggling can be draining particularly if you’re not careful with your own needs. Seek out your own support by talking with family, and friends. Consider seeking out your own counseling.Health0027

You can help your friend by initiating a caring conversation. Know that the Counseling Center is here to help. A consultation with us might provide more individualized suggestions and an opportunity to practice the intervention.

Jaime Fenton, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
Director of Clinical Services
TU Counseling Center

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