Helping a Friend
One of the best parts of the college experience is the development of new friendships. Finding a friend can make a difference in how someone learns to manage the challenges of being a student. A friend can be a source of excitement and fun. A friend can also be a resource, a confidant, a support system, or a sounding board in times of need. Over time, you may become concerned about one of your friends. Maybe s/he has just ended a romantic relationship. Or maybe s/he isn’t able to get up for his/her classes or motivated to study. Maybe s/he has just lost a close family member and is having a hard time grieving. And maybe you don’t know exactly what is wrong, but know that your friend isn’t acting like him or herself. There may be many reasons why you are concerned about your friend, and whether s/he speaks with you about what is wrong or you are observing changes in behavior, there are some proactive ways in which you can help your friend.
Listen and Respond Appropriately
This is perhaps the simplest way to help, but it may sometimes be the most important. Many times a student may not have spoken to anyone about their concerns, so the first step is to listen to what they have to say. The conversation may not be an easy one, and it may not be completed in one sitting, but we encourage you to be patient with your friend and give them the space to talk through what is on his or her mind. Be cautious about trying to solve your friend’s problems; the goal isn’t to “fix” what is wrong. Try to put yourself into your friend’s shoes and empathize with their dilemma. Be accepting of your friend, even if you disagree with what s/he is saying or doing, and try not to react in a judgmental way. Tell your friend that you will support them during this difficult time, and that talking about it is the first step toward feeling better.
Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
When a person comes to you with their problems, they may reveal something that worries you. They may ask you to promise that you “won’t tell anyone ever,” and that promise may be a difficult burden to carry. Even if they ask you to keep everything they tell you a secret, there may be occasions when it is best for that person if you speak with a professional. For example, if your friend is behaving in a way that is dangerous to themselves or to other people, it may be more harmful than helpful to keep that information to yourself. In this situation, your friend may be angry or disappointed, but their safety is of primary importance! If you have concerns about your friend’s behavior or thoughts, please contact the Counseling Center at 215.895.1415, call Drexel Public Safety at 215.895.2222 if you are on campus or dial 911 in an emergency.
How To Show You Care
There are a number of ways in which you can continue to show your friend that you care about them and their physical and mental health. Along with listening, you can:
- Talk in private with your friend, and do so in a caring, non-judgmental way.
- Find a time to speak with your friend when he or she is not participating in the unhealthy behavior.
- Use “I” messages to show your genuine interest in your friend’s thoughts and feelings.
- Focus the discussion on specific, observable behaviors, and try not to interpret, generalize, or label.
- Paraphrase what your friend has told you. This will help him or her to feel listened to.
- Avoid reacting if your friend responds with denial, minimization, or promises to change in the future, especially if the behaviors you have observed have lasted for a long time.
- Don’t make decisions on behalf of your friend. Instead, help him or her to make choices for themselves when they are ready.
- Suggest contacting the Counseling Center, and offer to accompany your friend for the first session.
- Continue to be supportive, and give your friend an opportunity to consider what you have discussed.
- If the behavior continues, speak with your friend again and repeat the process.
Know Your Limits
Sometimes, in our efforts to be a good friend, we fail to recognize that what we are doing may, in fact, be contributing somehow to the problem. Sometimes good friends may be missing or ‘excusing’ behaviors that are more significant or problematic than you might think. If things are not improving for your friend, or if the problems seem beyond your ability to help, please consider encouraging your friend to seek help from someone trained to intervene. This is especially true if your friend is in crisis, such as talking about suicide or harming someone else. In this case, immediately contact the Counseling Center at 215.895.1415, call Drexel Public Safety at 215.895.2222 if you are on campus or dial 911 to reach the police.
Take Care of Yourself
During this process, it is very important to remember to take care of yourself and your own mental and physical health. You may feel overwhelmed in trying to help your friend, or helpless because you are unable to help them. Remember that YOU are also important, and your own mental health and comfort are vital! Your friend may not be the only one who needs help. Take advantage of the Counseling Center by calling and scheduling a consultation or appointment for yourself. Talk with a professor, RA, staff member, or someone else that you trust. Don’t forget that you have to take care of yourself in order to help your friends!
The content provided here is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment, nor should it replace the consultation of a trained medical or mental health professional. Please note that outside links are not under our control, and we cannot guarantee the content contained on them.