Counseling & Wellness Center

How to Help a Friend

When to Talk to a Friend about Getting Help

If you are worried about a friend who is in imminent danger of hurting themselves or others, call 911 immediately.

Most of us feel “stressed” at times, but living in an extreme state of distress for a long period of time can affect someone’s functioning and well-being in a very significant and negative way.

Distress

Here are some signs that you or a friend might be experiencing significant distress:

  • Trouble sleeping and/or lack of energy
  • Little interest in activities that once seemed fun
  • Depressed or lethargic mood
  • Lack of motivation
  • Excessive tension or worry
  • Excessive alcohol or drug use
  • A drop in grades or class attendance
  • Withdrawing from friends or family
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Self-injury (cutting; scratching; burning)
  • Unusual or exaggerated response to events (e.g., overly suspicious; overly agitated; easily startled)

If you are worried about a friend who might be experiencing distress, consider talking to them about visiting the Counseling & Wellness Center.

Crisis

A person who is crisis is no longer able to use their usual healthy coping skills. This person may not be able to make good decisions that will keep them safe:

You might observe:

  • Extreme agitation or panic
  • References to or threats of suicide, or other types of self-harm
  • Threats of assault, both verbal and physical
  • Highly disruptive behavior: physical or verbal hostility; violence; destruction of property
  • Inability to communicate (for example, slurred or garbled speech; disjointed thoughts)
  • Disorientation; confusion; loss of contact with conventional reality

If you are worried about a friend who is in imminent danger of hurting themselves or others, call 911 immediately.

How to Talk to a Friend about Getting Help

Talk to your friend in private:

  • “Ambushing” a friend about their behavior might cause them to retreat even further.
  • Privacy helps give them control and choice—huge for building trust.
  • “Hey—I’d love to hang out, just the two of us. You pick the place.”

Listen (no, REALLY, listen!):

  • Avoid interrupting when your friend is talking.
  • Silence is okay—it will give your friend a chance to think about what they want to say, and it gives them the choice to respond or not.
  • It’s okay if you don’t have the answers. Just reassure them that you’re there to listen.

Validate their feelings…without judgment:

  • “You sound super mad”
  • “I can see why that would feel disappointing to you.”

Offer to help them get help:

  • “The counselors are great here. Do you want me to help you call the Counseling Center?”
  • “I’m here to listen, but the counselors might be able to give you a new perspective.”
  • “Remember, everything you say at the Counseling Center is confidential. You really can tell them anything.” [NOTE: limits to confidentiality exist if a student is in imminent danger]