Concern about a Friend
Friends are usually the first to notice when a peer is in
distress. You may notice that your friend is excessively sad, worried,
irritable, withdrawn, or just “not themselves”. Perhaps you are concerned
about a pattern of unhealthy behaviors (e.g., drug or alcohol abuse, eating
disorder, self-injury) or that they have stopped going to class and are
sleeping much of the day. Expressing your concern to your friend and
encouraging them to seek help may well be the first step in their
healing. Helping a friend can often be challenging, though. They
may dismiss your concern or they may be depending on you more than you feel
How can I help?
what you observe. Be objective by stating what you observe and are concerned
about and avoid making assumptions about why your friend is distressed (e.g.,
you seem pretty upset…, unhappy…, anxious; you said you were missing class…, I
am worried about how much you’re drinking…not eating…etc.)
your concern for your friend. Indicate that you
are concerned about their well being and that you want to help. Patiently
repeat your concern if necessary.
- Inquire. Ask
about what seems to be wrong or how you could help.
- Listen. Just
listen, carefully, sensitively, without judgment. Give them your
undivided attention. Accept what they are saying without agreeing or
disagreeing with his/her behavior or point of view.
- Empathize. Sincerely
communicate your understanding of the issue as they describe it, in both content
this question: “What have you tried or planned to do about this concern?”
Hope. Help them understand that the situation can improve, and
that things will not always seem so bad. Do not try to fix too quickly,
criticize, moralize, correct, or make decisions for them.
- Encourage. Encourage
your friend to continue to talk about their issues, and remind them that it is
normal to talk with someone he/she can trust when in need of help.
Talking is a natural way to relieve stressful emotions.
Options. Your friend may find it helpful to talk also with their
R.A. or Community Director if they live on campus. They may want to talk
with a trusted faculty member, administrator or staff member. They may
want to talk with a family member, family physician, or family clergy
speaking to a therapist at Counseling and Psychological Services.Remind
them that it’s free and confidential. Tell them that talking to a CAPS
therapist is a mature, healthy step to take, and is not a sign of weakness.
Offer to help them call for an appointment or walk over to CAPS with them.
What if the person is reluctant or refuses to visit CAPS (and it
is not an emergency)?
force the issue. simply restate your concerns and the available options.
that confronting a problem is a positive sign of health and maturity.
validate, and discuss the person’s concerns about visiting CAPS.
them that CAPS is free and confidential and that the therapists have years of
friendly, remain open and available to help in the future.
they take some time to think it over.
What if this is an emergency (i.e., suicide threat or
dangerousness to self or others)?
CAPS at 966-3658 and speak with the Urgent Consultation Team
- or go
directly to the emergency room (see Know Who To Call)
If your friend has made indirect statements, perhaps
verbally or in an email, and/or shows warning signs that
they are feeling hopeless or contemplating self harm, you must take this very
seriously. Your awareness and willingness to inquire and express concern
may save a life.
The S.I.R.E.N. Model
- SEE -
the warning signs [hypertext] that your friend is expressing
- don’t be afraid to ask how your friend is feeling and what they are thinking
about in regards to any hopeless thoughts or self harm wishes
- your concern in a caring, nonjudgmental way.
- them to seek help
- and refer them to the appropriate resources on campus and in the community.
Become familiar with the SIREN Model for
How else can I help?
- Know who to call
bargain or keep secrets. Don’t let the person convince you that
it is not serious or that they can handle it on their own. Don’t bargain –
people who have made suicidal threats or attempts can often be very effective
at persuading their friends to keep silent about what they have done.
your limits. If you find yourself feeling too responsible,
overwhelmed, and over-extending yourself, trust these feelings and realize you
must encourage your friend to talk to a therapist or someone in a professional
role on campus. Admit that you don’t have the expertise to help
sufficiently but that you are concerned and will help them arrange to talk to a
sure you have enough support for yourself. You don’t have to
deal with such a situation on your own. If you are concerned about
someone, you can call Counseling and Psychological Services and consult with a
professional about how to proceed.