You Don't Need All the Answers to Help
Reaching out, showing you care, and encouraging your friend to get help make a difference.
How to Help a Friend
Friends play an important role in our wellbeing and 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 being a friend can make a big impact.
Show Your Friend You Care
Sometimes, just letting your friend know you're there and available to listen can provide much needed relief. 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.
Get More Tips at Seize the Awkward:
Start a Caring Conversation
- 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?
When You Speak
- use a calm, open, and caring tone and let them know you care
- give concrete examples of your concerns
- validate their feelings
- avoid interrupting, correcting, blaming, judging, or jumping to solutions
- ask what would be helpful - listening, problem-solving, company, advice
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
If You're Worried about Safety, Ask Key Questions
Whether you've noticed these signs in your friend or just have a gut feeling that something's off, follow your instincts. You don't have to know exactly what's going on, figure it all out, or have all the answers. Just start a conversation or reach out to someone you trust who can help you navigate the situation.
When you're worried that a friend is in an unsafe situation, let them know you care and ask these key questions:
- If you're concerned about suicide, ask: Are you thinking about suicide? If they are, stay with them until they are safe and encourage them to use suicide prevention resources like these. You can call a suicide hotline together or go with them to an emergency room.
- If you're concerned about substance use or addiction, approach your friend in a curious tone and ask: How have you felt about how things are going? or Are you using drugs/alcohol? when you're not sure if they're using substances. Focus on remaining nonjudgmental and understanding their perspective.
- If you're concerned about your friend's safety in a relationship, let them know you care and ask for their perspective: How do you think things are going in the relationship?
Make your relationship and this conversation a safe space by bringing up your concerns without judgment. During the conversation, avoiding labeling/diagnosing your friend or using language that reinforces stigma and stereotypes. Instead, let your friend know that you are here to support them and empower your friend to choose a next step.
Remember: you don't have to take this on alone. Sharing your concerns about a friend with someone who can help is not the same as gossiping.
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 it would be overreacting, prying, or creating drama to bring up our concerns about a friend. 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.
Not sure if you should say something? Here are some times 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 this:
- 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?
You don't need to be an expert to help a friend, but sometimes professional help is needed. If you've noticed uncharacteristic behaviors or concerning changes in a friend, if they're too anxious to relax or isolating themselves, or if you're worried that a friend may be in a dangerous situation, they may benefit from professional help.
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.
Your friend may not be ready to look for help for themselves. Get someone to help you search for treatment options online and pass them along to your friend. You can also suggest that your friend talk with a counselor or come to Campus Health's Counseling & Psych Services (CAPS) with them.