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.
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:
- Enable them by covering up for missed obligations
- Continue to participate with them in behaviors (like drinking) that are agitating their mental health
- Back down on the importance of seeking help – remember, many emotional disorders require professional support and aren’t something people can fix on their own
- Feel like you are going behind your friend’s back if you think it’s necessary to tell someone else about the problem without your friend’s consent
Taking on the burden of a friend in emotional distress can be extremely stressful and draining so remember to recognize your limits and take care of your own emotional health.