Worried About a Friend? How to Help
Being a young adult can be hard at times – whether you are moving into your first college dorm, beginning your first full-time job, or even just unsure of your plans after graduating high school.
These changes can be stressful, and sometimes young adults do become depressed. If you are worried about a friend, there are several things you can do to help.
Signs Your Friend is in Trouble
If you are concerned that your friend might be depressed, look out for:
- Signs of hopelessness and persistent sadness
- Lack of energy
- Constant crying
- Withdrawing from friends, family, and usual activities
- Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
- Neglecting personal hygiene
- Anger and rage
- Not caring about the future and making reckless decisions, like drinking too much or speeding
- Talking about or hinting at thoughts of self-harm, death, or dying.
- If your friend is at risk of suicide you must take action immediately.
- This means having them talk to a counselor immediately – most colleges have someone available for this – or calling a suicide hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-(800)-273-8255.
- If your friend refuses to talk to anyone you will need to call 911.
- This information cannot be kept secret, even if your friend asks you not to tell anyone. (This is a scary time, but you will get through it!)
Back to top
How to Help
If you think your friend is depressed, the first thing you should do is talk to them. Yes, this can be a very hard thing to do, but it can make a huge difference in your friend's recovery.
Here are some tips to make the conversation a bit easier:
- Express that you care about your friend and want him or her to be happy and healthy.
- Use "I statements" as much as possible.
- "I'm worried about you..." is much easier to take in than, "You are worrying me because..."
- Using "I statements" helps the person stay calm and avoid getting defensive.
- Avoid lecturing. Listen with open ears, and be prepared for any reaction. Your friend might cry, deny there is any problem, or even get angry with you.
- Offer to help your friend, but try not to come across as the person in-charge.
- Gently encourage your friend to continue their normal routine – going to class, club meetings, meals with people, etc. Staying engaged with friends and family helps fight depression.
- Encourage your friend to slowly get back to normal routine.
- Trying making social plans with the person, but avoid overwhelming events like large parties or social events. Offer to do some calming exercise together, like taking a walk or going to a yoga class.
- Be prepared to gently recommend that your friend see a counselor or therapist. Offer to go with your friend to the first session. You can show support by waiting while your friend sees the counselor.
When it gets down to it, be a supportive and caring friend, but don't take charge of the situation. If you get too involved, your friend might just pull away.
It's also important to take care of yourself. Supporting a friend in trouble can be emotionally draining, so make sure you give yourself time to rejuvenate. Exercise, read a book, go outside – do something that helps you calm down. It is also perfectly ok to see a counselor and get some guidance yourself.
Back to top
public health education intern
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
How to Help a Friend, ActiveMinds.org.
For More Information:
See our Suicide article.
See our Anxiety article.
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: August 6, 2013