Every day we ask questions like “how are you?” and “what's up?” as a way of saying
“hi” when passing friends in the hall, responding to emails and posting on Facebook
walls. But how often do we get meaningful responses to those questions that tell
us how our friends are really doing?
If you have a friend who is struggling emotionally, not coping well or using drugs
or alcohol to escape, it is important to understand that unaddressed emotional health
problems can have serious consequences. These problems can make it hard for students
to succeed in school and lead to addiction, dangerous behaviors, or thoughts of
suicide. When asked who they would turn to for help if they were in emotional distress,
most young people list their friends as a top source of support.
Are you prepared to recognize a friend in need and steer them toward help? Would
you know what to do? How are you going to be a friend?
Balancing all life's demands — school, work, relationships — can be stressful and many people get overwhelmed, anxious and overexerted
– so it can be tough to tell if a friend is just dealing with the everyday challenges of
life or struggling with a larger problem. A friend in trouble might need professional
help to develop better coping and stress management skills, or they may be dealing
with illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders that generally
require attention and treatment.
Here are some common signs that a friend needs help dealing with emotional issues
or a mental health problem:
Visit our topic pages for more info on warning signs of specific mental health problems:
bipolar disorder, suicide,
eating disorders, anxiety disorders,
alcohol and drug abuse and
Many times, a decline in emotional health can lead to isolation and the person suffering
may become very secretive in order to hide the problem. A friend “dropping off the
face of the earth” or behaving unusually could be a sign of a problem. It is important
to try and make contact so you can assess if any of the warning signs mentioned
above are present.
How you respond to a friend or classmate that is showing signs of emotional distress
or a potential problem is often dependent on your relationship with that person.
If you have a long history and friendship with the person, you may be a key resource
for support and feel comfortable having a discussion with your friend about how
they are feeling. If the person struggling is a more recent acquaintance, like a
roommate or classmate, your role may involve letting someone else know about the
problem. Regardless, it is important to remember that you aren't a therapist and
it isn't your job to provide treatment. Your role is to be supportive and encourage
them to reach out to family, the counseling center or another medical professional
as a first step -- even if you don't fully understand the problem or its severity.
Despite your good intentions, your friend might be reluctant to accept the possibility
that they could have an emotional disorder and they may not react to support in
a positive way. They might say that the best way to help is to “back off” or ignore
the problem, but it is important that you don't:
When we see someone who is sad, angry or anxious, it is our instinct to ask “what's
wrong?” However, someone dealing with a mental health problem may have certain thoughts
or feelings that aren't related to a specific situation or event. So when approaching
a friend who is showing signs of a problem or dealing with emotional distress, it
is important to be patient and supportive. You may not be able to understand how
your friend is feeling and it may seem uncomfortable or awkward to discuss personal
and emotional issues, but you can listen and let them know they aren't alone.
Here are some key points you can communicate to a friend in need.
We all go through tough times. Sometimes people see asking for help as a sign of
weakness so you can comfort your friend by giving them an example of a time you
or someone you know struggled and needed support.
You can feel better. Your friend may feel hopeless or like no one can understand
or help them, so it's important to make them see that reaching out for support is
the first step to feeling better. Mental health problems are treatable and manageable
once identified, so sometimes we need a mental check-up in the same way we get other
It's OK to ask for help. Remember, that our backgrounds, cultures and experiences
can have a huge impact on how we view help-seeking. Some people may come from families
or ethnic groups where asking for help or seeing a mental health professional is
shunned or thought of as weak. Thinking about why a friend might be reluctant get
help can be important in deciding how to suggest they reach out for support.
Learn some of the reasons
friends might give for not seeking help and how you can respond.
If you are concerned that a friend is thinking about harming themselves or someone
else, it is important that you don't try and deal with that situation alone. You
can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK for guidance or contact
your school's counseling center or a mental health professional in your community. If there is an immediate threat of harm, call 9-1-1
or your school's emergency number.
Click here to find local resources in your community or on your college campus
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