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Helping a Friend

Roommates, classmates, and friends are often the first to notice when a fellow student is struggling, or is in distress. A friend may approach you with a problem or express feelings of despair, anxiety, frustration, sadness or loneliness. In other situations you may be the one to approach a friend because you are concerned about their behavior, mood or situation. If you've initiated the conversation it's possible that your friend may initially resist your efforts or even become angry with you for confronting them. However, in most instances your friend will end up thanking you in the end for your help and concern.

In either instance it is important to remember that you are being a good friend by showing a willingness to listen and to help, but ultimately talking about their problems or seeking help must be your friend's decision. You are not responsible for solving your friend's problems, or the outcome of their situation.

If you find yourself in the position of wanting to help a friend, but are unsure of what you can do and how to go about it, here are some guidelines:

  • Find a time to talk in private, when you both have plenty of time and are not preoccupied. Give them your undivided attention, and let them talk.
  • If you are initiating the conversation, be direct and let them know in specific, non-judgmental terms that you are concerned about them, and want to help.
  • Listen to what they are saying, and the thoughts and feelings they are trying to express. Let your friend know you hear what they are saying by repeating the essence of what they have said. For example you might say something like, "It sounds like you miss your family and are really feeling alone."
  • Try and put yourself in their shoes, and see the situation from their point of view. Even if you don't agree or support some of their behavior, let them know you are on their side, and understand where they are coming from.
  • Don't try and make decisions for your friend, tell them what they "should do," or try to solve their problems for them. What you may do in the same situation may not be the best thing for your friend to do.
  • Let your friend know that they are not alone, that help is available to them. Tell them about the confidential services available to them through the Student Center for Health and Counseling. Review the information on this site, and give them a sense of what they might expect if they seek out counseling.
  • If they are receptive to learning more about what the SCHC has to offer them, offer to let them use your phone, or offer to walk with them to the Center to make an appointment.
  • If you are worried about a student's well-being and need help assessing the situation, or are not sure what to do, call the SCHC. We'll discuss the situation with you and give you some ideas on how to help.
  • Follow up. Check with your friend later to find out how he or she is doing. Provide support or encouragement as appropriate.
  • If they are talking about suicide or seem as if they are in danger of harming themselves or another, let someone know. Call 911, or campus security at 755-3888.

Taking Care of Yourself

It can be emotionally draining to take on a helping role with a friend. Recognize that your well-being is just as important as your friends and take steps to care for yourself. It is important to know your limits, and be realistic about the amount of time and, or emotional energy you are willing or able to commit. Signs that you may be in over your head include feeling overwhelmed, anxious or confused; thinking you are the only one who can help; or noticing your friend's problems are adversely affecting your life. Remember, that you are not responsible for another's situation, and you don't have the power to make someone change, get help, or even talk about their problems. What you can do is be supportive, listen, and offer to help if they desire it.