How to help a friend

Two women talking Have you noticed a friend has suddenly stopped attending classes altogether? Or maybe they’ve started saying things that sound distressful or hopeless? Or they seem like they’ve lost control of their emotions? Sometimes you might notice a friend is struggling with their mental health and want to help, but it can be really hard to know how, or if you should approach them. Reaching out and showing a friend you care can really help them.

How do you recognize if someone is struggling

It can be hard to know sometimes if someone is just having a bad day, or if it is something more. There are many different signs of mental health concerns, including: a sudden disinterest in or absence from classes, patterns of perfectionism, deterioration in physical appearance, excessive fatigue, noticeable self-harm marks, unusual inability to make eye contact, statements indicating distress or intent to self-harm, difficulty controlling emotions, sudden social withdrawal, and expressions of hopelessness. If you notice one or more of these things in a friend, it might be a good idea to reach out or seek help from someone else to talk about the situation.

Ways to respond

If you want to reach out to a friend, keep the following things in mind if you choose to speak directly with someone you think is struggling:

  • Meet in a private place where you won’t be interrupted
  • Ask how things are going for them
  • Express your concern in a positive tone and point out specific behaviours that have caused you concern
  • Listen with empathy and without judgment and encourage them to elaborate on things that concern you
  • Remember, opening up can be hard and emotional for both of you
  • Avoid promising to keep their concerns a secret - If your friend expresses something that might mean there is a safety risk, you should always contact someone else who can help
  • Make sure you let your friend know about the different options to get help

Sometimes your friend might not want to accept help and this can be difficult but opening the conversation up can help them consider the different options they have available and let them know that somebody cares about them.

How to refer a friend

You can offer to walk your friend to a Campus Wellness office. Counselling Services is located in Needles Hall North on the second floor and can be reached at 519-888-4567 ext. 32655 if you or your friend want more information. Counselling Services office hours are Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and your friend can meet with an Intake Specialist who can help them put together a wellness plan. There are also walk-in appointment hours on Wednesday and Thursday. Health Services is located across the bridge from the Student Life Centre and can be reached at 519-888-4096. The health professionals at Health Services can help with mental health concerns and walk-in appointments are available daily.

If you think your friend might be a safety risk to themselves or others it is important not to leave them alone and to get them to help. If it is after Campus Wellness office hours, you can call the UW Police at 519-888-4567 ext. 22222 and they will help refer your friend to the appropriate after-hours resources.

There are also 24/7 helplines your friend can call: Here 24/7 (1-844-437-3247) and Good2Talk (1-866-925-5454).

Take care of yourself

The selfless act of listening, supporting, and comforting a friend can be overwhelming. It is important to remember the following things:

  • Take time for yourself. Remember to practice your own self-care rituals even when you are spending extra effort to care for another person. Make time for things you enjoy and things that help you take care of yourself to keep some balance in your own life.
  • Other people’s experiences can be triggering. Depending on what your friend tells you, you might have some of your own memories of previous experiences pulled to the surface. If you find yourself experiencing distress because of something you helped a friend through, consider speaking to a professional yourself.
  • Know your own limitations. Remember that you are not a counsellor and that you shouldn't be expected to know everything about your friend’s mental health concern. Referring your friend to an appropriate resource is really important for both yourself and your friend.

Want to learn more?

Campus Wellness offers mental health awareness and suicide intervention training throughout the year. For more information about the different types of trainings and course availability, visit our Training page.

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