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Helping a Friend

Helping a Friend: Signs of a Friend in Need of Help


  • Mentions suicidal thoughts
  • Seems down or depressed frequently
  • Changes drastically in eating or sleeping habits
  • Has become socially isolated
  • Frequently misses class or other obligations
  • Experiences substance abuse
  • Has experienced a traumatic event
  • Seems hopeless
  • Has sudden, frequent mood changes
  • Loses interest in hobbies or activities

The following information will guide you through the process of talking with a friend about your concerns and suggesting appropriate resources.

Before beginning, think over what are the most important things you’d like to say. Try to find a time when neither of you is upset nor tired. Focus should be on your concern and specific, behavioral things you have seen or heard which cause your concern.   For example: 

  • You haven’t been to class for 2 weeks. Is something going on? 
  • I don’t see you anymore—you are in your room a lot. 
  • The text message you sent me last night, about not being able to take it anymore, really worried me. 
  • I’m concerned about your eating (or sleeping) lately. 
  • You look upset—are you sad or down?

Avoid labels, judgments, or critical statements.  For example:

  • What’s wrong with you!? 
  • You always talk about negative things…. 
  • You shouldn’t feel worried about that—it’s no big deal.

Listen carefully to what the student says in response.  Active listening means you try to hear and understand what they say before thinking ahead to your next move. Avoid using the word “but.” Be prepared to listen to some history about the problem. This can be a springboard to making suggestions (below). For example:

  • Man, you’ve been through a lot lately. No wonder you are having trouble focusing. You have a lot on your mind. 
  • I know it’s hard to ask for help; I’m glad you’re talking to me. 
  • It sounds like you’ve been discouraged by your past experiences.

Offer specific options about what your friend can do. Try to tie the recommendation to something the student said if you can. Here is more information about making an appointment:

  • Have you talked to a counselor about this? 
  • The Counseling Center is open right now—I could walk you over if you like. 
  • I’m not sure exactly what you need to get through this.  I know a counselor may.  Can we give them a call? 
  • Why don’t you look at the Counseling Center website and it may give you some ideas about the services. 
  • You’ve been dealing with this a long time; maybe it’s time to try something different. You could make an appointment to consult with someone—you don’t have to commit to anything up front.

Follow up. Let the student know you care (don’t push for details; just ask if they tried the suggestion). If the appointment did not go well, let him or her know that he or she might want to try another person or a different counseling location for a better fit.