Are you concerned about a friend’s behavior or emotional state? Are you wondering if there is anything you can do to help?
Sometimes, just talking with your friend openly about your concerns can help. It might, though, be difficult to know what to say—or it might become clear that talking will not be enough.
At such times, being a good friend might involve stepping beyond the usual boundaries of your friendship. This might mean having a more serious conversation than you are used to having. It might mean saying things you know your friend does not want to hear. It might even mean saying or doing something that your friend, at least initially, will resent. It might risk your friendship, and still be the right thing to do.
There is a free online tool that Loyola, as well as universities all throughout the United States and Maryland, is using to help students, faculty, staff, and administrators learn to recognize signs of psychological distress in various student populations. It is called Kognito. Users learn how to approach at-risk students and make appropriate referrals to campus support services for screening and assessment. Kognito teaches users to do this through online role-play conversations with virtual students. Learners attain hands-on practice managing challenging, and often sensitive, conversations surrounding mental health and master the skills necessary to identify and connect students to help.
University of Minnesota has an interactive tool to help students identify peers who may have mental health concerns, effectively engage in conversation to better understand a peer's concerns, and assist peers in connecting with appropriate campus resources.
Three Reasons for Failing to Help a Friend
“Given the opportunity to look the other way, most people will.”
- Being embarrassed to say you are concerned about them;
- Assuming they have stopped socializing, or are skipping classes, etc. because they want it that way and/or;
- Thinking that their drunken mumbling about wanting to die was “just the alcohol talking”
How Do I Know if My Friend Needs Help?
First, let’s distinguish between more ongoing and more urgent concerns. If your friend is in crisis—in danger of harming him/herself or someone else—read “WHAT IF IT’S A CRISIS?” below.
Otherwise, assuming it’s not an immediate crisis, how do you know that help is really needed? Everyone gets distressed at times. When are normal friendship and gentle advice probably not enough?
If signs like the following are continuing, more help is needed:
- Withdrawing from friends or activities;
- Chronically missing classes;
- Major sleep or appetite change;
- Deteriorating hygiene and overall self-care;
- Declining academic performance;
- Irritability; frequent arguments and conflicts;
- Binge drinking or drug use;
- Self-injurious behavior;
- Excessive worry, anxiety, fear, or panic;
- Feelings of hopeless, worthlessness, and/or thoughts of suicide;
- Loss of energy, motivation, interests;
- Risky sexual activity;
- Mood swings and/or;
- Expression of thoughts about dying or suicide
What can I do?
- Speak up. Find or make a time, and express your concerns. It shows you care!
- Use “I” statements. Without judging your friend, express how you feel. Be specific: “I’m concerned about your drinking lately.” “I’m worried about how sad you seem.” “I want to be able to offer you my support.”
- Listen. Once you’ve expressed your feelings, encourage your friend to talk. Then really listen.
- Clarify. Reflect back what you are hearing. Help clarify the problem.
- Offer your support. For now and in the future.
- Brainstorm. Help your friend look for ways forward, and ways you can be helpful.
- Help them expand their support network. Urge your friend to talk to other friends and family, and to try some of the University’s resources. The Counseling Center is the ideal place to start.
- Don’t take it on alone. You may not feel qualified to help your friend with their problems. Learn about resources on campus such as counseling, health services, mentoring, and spiritual guidance. The Counseling Center can educate you about these resources, and guide you in helping your friend. And please consider talking with us about getting you some support. Helping others can be stressful.
- Stay in touch. Don’t speak up once and then let it drop. Even if your friend is not receptive at first, mention your concerns again.
- The 'A friend asks' website linked below is maintained by the Jason Foundation, which is dedicated to the prevention of suicide through educational and awareness programs. There are Apple and Android apps for suicide prevention tips available here also. Please see the emergency contact information page in the case of a crisis.
What if That Doesn't Work?
If your friend won’t listen, isn’t trying other resources, or otherwise seems stuck, recommend that they “just try one visit” to the Counseling Center. It doesn’t commit them to counseling. They can just see how it feels, see what the counselor recommends, and then think about it. Tell them to check out our website. Here, they can even take a virtual tour of what a first visit would be like. You might even offer to accompany them, if that would help.
What, though, if they won’t even try one visit? Then you should consider speaking with a counselor, to see what else might be tried. Over the phone or in person, you can say what has been happening and get some advice on how to proceed.
What if it's a Crisis?
If your friend is so impaired that they are at risk of harming themselves or someone else, immediate action is required to help them. See emergency contact information.
If they are in emotional turmoil and confusion, not thinking clearly, not perceiving things clearly, or behaving bizarrely, this too constitutes an emergency and immediate action is necessary. This is true as well for any statements or behavior reflecting thoughts of self-harm or of harming someone else. In all these cases, follow the crisis directions above.
Be a Friend: Show you Care!
So often in our society we tend to reflexively think that others do not want us to pry. But we all know that when someone reaches out to us, it can make a huge difference. Check in with one another when you notice that someone’s mood or behavior seems to have changed, take the time to have the conversation and, when necessary, help the person you are reaching out to get the support he or she might need. We want all members of the community—faculty, staff, administrators, and students—to do this for each other, and help individuals who need some extra support plug into the wonderful resources that Loyola offers.