How to Help A Friend

If you’re worried about a friend, it’s okay to express your concerns to him/her in a caring and supportive way. This can be difficult and sometimes it is hard to know how to approach your friend and what to say. You may be overwhelmed and exhausted from the stress of supporting your friend. We are glad you are seeking help for your friend, and also for yourself.

Being a good friend might involve stepping beyond the usual boundaries of your friendship. It may mean having a more serious conversation than you are used to having. It might mean saying things that you know your friend does not want to hear and may resent. Even if it risks your friendship, it still may be the right thing to do.

Some general tips for talking to a friend about your concerns:

  • In a calm and caring way, talk to your friend about the specific things you have seen or felt that cause you to worry.
  • Do not promise your friend confidentiality of the information they share with you, as the situation may require assistance from a professional if the friend is a danger to themselves or someone else.
  • Use “I” statements. Without judging your friend, express how YOU feel. Be as specific as possible. “I’m concerned about your drinking lately.” “I’m worried about how sad you have been lately.”
  • Listen. Once you’ve expressed your concerns, really listen.
  • Avoid giving simplistic solutions: “If you’d just ________, everything would be fine!” You might think you know the answer to your friend’s problem, but everyone is different.
  • Offer recommendations for seeking professional help, if you believe this is appropriate. For example, “I really wish you would talk to a counselor about your sadness. I’ll even go with you to your first appointment.” Normalize counseling as something that most successful people have utilized at some point in their lives to overcome or work through a hard time. Ask them to try out counseling just once and see how it feels.
  • Follow up with your friend to see how they are doing.
  • Help your friend expand their support network. Encourage them to talk with other friends and family, and to try some of the University’s resources.
  • Get support for yourself if you feel you need it or if you don’t know what to do to help your friend any further. Supporting a friend can be stressful, especially when you already have a full plate of classes, work, and your own stressors going on.
  • Do not take on other people’s problems and then feel responsible for the outcome. You can’t force someone to seek help, change their behaviors, or adjust their attitudes. You will make important progress by honestly sharing your concerns, providing support, and knowing where to go for more information. If you find that you are spending large amounts of time talking to your friend, worrying about him/her, and/or trying to solve their problems for him/her, it is time for you to bring in other people to help.
  •  Safety always comes first. If you are concerned for the safety of you, your friend, or anyone else, call Public Safety at (314) 529-9500 or 911 immediately.

Other Resources

“Ask, Listen, Refer”: Maryville University’s Suicide Prevention Training Program  

ULifeline (an anonymous, confidential, online mental health assessment)