I am Concerned about My Friend’s Mental Health

College can be a stressful time. It may be difficult to tell whether your friend is dealing with the usual college stressors or if he/she is facing something more serious that calls for professional attention.  If you are worried about a friend for any reason, it’s important to talk with him/her and share your concerns. Below are some common signs that a person may be experiencing symptoms of a mental health disorder:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, depressed mood, poor self esteem or guilt
  • Lack of interest that interferes with obligations or keeps a person from participating in social activities
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Anger, rage, or extreme reactions to certain situations
  • Feeling tired or exhausted all the time
  • Trouble concentrating, thinking or making decisions, or suddenly struggling in school
  • Restless, irritable, agitated or anxious movements or behaviors
  • Regular crying
  • Ceasing to care about appearance or about keeping up with personal hygiene
  • Reckless or impulsive behaviors such as excessive spending or risky sexual behavior
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Persistent physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive problems, or chronic pain that do not respond to treatment
  • Thoughts about death or suicide. If your friend is having suicidal thoughts or an emergency medical situation, dial 911 or Psychiatric Emergency Services at (734) 936-5900.

Friends are often the first, and sometimes the only ones to notice when someone needs mental health care.  It is important to provide your support, but remember: as a friend, you’re not responsible for fixing the problem. Think of it this way: if you discovered that your friend had a broken arm, you couldn’t fix it yourself, but you probably wouldn’t ignore it!

Here are some tips for helping a friend who is experiencing symptoms of a mental health disorder, and examples of how to begin a conversation about your concerns. Put these ideas in your own words. The most important thing is to show that you care.

Express your concerns in a straightforward and non-judgmental way:

  • Talk about specific behaviors that you’ve noticed that are worrying you.
    “I am worried about you. You don’t seem like yourself lately. You haven’t been eating, you’ve been sleeping a lot and not socializing like you used to. Have you thought about going to talk with someone about what’s on your mind?”
  • If you’ve noticed a change in a roommate or classmate whom you don’t feel comfortable approaching, it may be a good idea to share your concerns with someone closer to them.

Listen:

  • If your friend talks about their mental health concerns, don’t change the subject. 
  • Resist the temptation to give advice or dismiss their concerns.
  • Ask him/her what you can do to help.
  • Just listening empathically and allowing your friend to talk about his/her problems can be very helpful.
    “This is important. I’m listening.”
    "I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.”

Encourage your friend to seek help as soon as possible:

  • Mental health disorders are real illnesses. They can get better with treatment. 
  • If necessary, learn about possible treatment options and offer to help schedule the first appointment or even go with her/him to get help. 
  • Approaching your friend with information and support is more likely to be effective than trying to pressure her/him into treatment if she/he is not ready for help.
    “There is hope for feeling better. Can I help you find someone to talk to about your concerns?”
    "I have heard good things about the counselors at CAPS.”
    "Can I walk with you to Counseling and Psychological Services to see the Counselor-on-Duty?”

Be prepared for all possible reactions:

  • Your friend may not react to your concern in a positive way.  She/he may:
    • Deny the possibility that she/he could have a mental health disorder
    • Become angry
    • Be unready to seek help
  • Don’t take a negative reaction personally.
    • Don’t be pushy, but let your friend know that you will be available for her/him if she/he decides to get help.
    • If your friend is unwilling to get help and you are still concerned and unsure what to do, you can contact Counseling and Psychological Services to get advice about the situation from a clinical staff member.
    • It may be helpful to ask your friend about what, specifically, is stopping her/him from getting treatment.

Take care of yourself:

  • Some people get so caught up in worrying about their friend’s mental health that they forget to take care of their own health. 
  • Make sure to take time out for yourself to do something you find relaxing.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, call CAPs or another mental health service provider for support.
  • Check out free support groups for families and friends of individuals with mental health disorders.

Never keep talk of suicide a secret

  • All talk of suicide should be taken seriously.
  • Call a mental health professional or take your friend to the Psychiatric Emergency Department (PES): (734) 936-5900. PES is located in the University Hospital at 1500 East Medical Center Drive.
  • Do NOT promise a friend that you will keep their suicidal thoughts or behavior private!
    “I am listening. This is important.”
    “We need extra help. I want to connect you with someone who can help you.”

 

Next > My Friend Has a Mental Health Disorder- How Can I Support Him/Her?

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