How to Help a Friend

How to Help a Friend

You don't need all the answers to help. Reach out, let them know you care, and encourage a next step. Here's how.

Show Your Friend You Care

Friends offer a special kind of support we don't get from parents, teachers, or even siblings. You don't need to know the perfect thing to say or have all the answers. Just letting your friends know you care makes a big impact. Whether you're checking in at the end of the day or having a heavy conversation, focus on helping your friend feel cared for and understood. Practice being open, present, and nonjudgmental in the way you speak and listen.

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You're Not Being Dramatic

You've probably experienced support from a friend firsthand and know all the ways a friend can help. Even so, many of us worry that we're overreacting, prying, or creating drama by telling a friend we're concerned about them. You may see red flags and hear alarm bells inside but still be wondering if you're just misreading the situation.

It's tempting to tell yourself to "wait and see." We want you to know it's not just okay to get involved, it could be life-saving.

Academic research, CAPS evaluations, and UA student feedback all share a common theme: a significant number of students who are struggling avoid asking for help. However, when asked who they would talk to about their struggles, most say a friend. There are many reasons for this, but the conclusion is the same. Trusting your instincts and reaching out when you're concerned about a friend can make a big difference.

When to Reach Out

  • You've noticed changes in your friend’s personality, mood or behavior
  • You wonder if your friend is “overdoing it”
  • Your friend's taking risks that scare you or encouraging you to take risks with them
  • Your friend’s behavior embarrasses you
  • Your friend’s social media activity raises red flags
  • Your friend is abusing alcohol or other drugs
  • Your friend is talking about death or expressing fears that something might happen to them

If you're feeling conflicted about reaching out, ask yourself:

  • Am I acting in good faith?
  • Is it better for my friend to be angry with me or to be going through something serious all by themselves?
  • Will I regret not speaking up?
  • Is this a dangerous secret to keep?
  • How do I feel when people help me?
  • Does anyone else need to know this is going on?
  • Is my friend in possible danger?
  • Is it possible my friend will listen to me?

How to Start a Caring Conversation 

Checking in with a friend doesn't need to be complicated. There are simple ways to start a caring conversation with your friend.  

  • Hey, I noticed...I'm worried about you/I care about you
  • How was your night?
  • I was thinking about what you said the other day
  • How are you?
  • You seem...want to talk about it?
  • How's your family?  

Caring Conversation Tips

When You Speak

  • use a calm, caring tone
  • give concrete examples of your concerns
  • validate their feelings
  • avoid judgment and blame
  • avoid jumping to solutions
  • ask what would be helpful

When You Listen

  • practice active listening
  • leave space for your friend to talk
  • paraphrase what you hear and check your understanding
  • offer nonverbal cues of support - eye contact, nodding, and open body language
  • notice your friend's nonverbal cues

When You're Not Sure What to Say, Remember CARE

Use CARE to check in with a friend or ask for help yourself.

  • C: Connect
  • A: Actively Listen
  • R: Respond with Empathy
  • E: Encourage Help & End with a Next Step

Encourage Help

Sometimes, professional help is needed. If you've noticed uncharacteristic behaviors or concerning changes in a friend or you're worried that a friend may be in a dangerous situation, help is available. Recommend resources to your friend or reach out to consult with a professional about how to best support your friend. 

Pay attention to how you feel too. Feeling pressured, overwhelmed, or personally responsible for your friend's wellbeing or over-extending yourself to help them are all signs that professional support could be helpful. Sometimes, one of the best things you can do for a friend is direct them to supportive resources and professional help.