The life of a college student involves opportunity, excitement, and stress. While experiencing everyday ups and downs is a part of life, some students encounter difficulties that interfere with their functioning. You may have noticed a friend dealing with problems, and wondered, “What can I do to help?” If you are trying to support a friend after a sexual assault, view more information.
One of the best ways you can provide support for your friend is simply by being willing to listen in an open and non-judgmental way. You can also help by spending time with your friend. Seeing a movie together, meeting for lunch, working out at the Rec Center - whatever activities you and your friend typically enjoy can provide an emotional boost during times of difficulty.
It’s also important to recognize the limits of what help you can provide. In some cases, a friend may be experiencing distress that calls for professional help. Some of these signs of distress include:
- Persistently depressed, irritable, or anxious mood
- Changes in behavior - e.g. becoming more quiet or withdrawn
- Changes in appetite, and/or weight changes
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Academic difficulties - e.g. falling grades, skipping classes, low motivation
- Loss of interest in previously-enjoyed activities
If you notice your friend experiencing some of the signs listed above, you may want to encourage him or her to seek additional help. Counseling Services is available to provide individual and couples therapy for students at UMSL. We can also assist students who are in a state of crisis. In order to schedule an appointment, a student can simply call or come by Counseling Services in 131 Millennium Student Center during regular office hours. If you'd like, you can offer to accompany your friend to our office for their first appointment. After hours or on weekends, crisis assistance is available through Life Crisis Services- (314) 647-HELP. For those who live in the residence halls, crisis assistance can also be accessed by notifying the residence hall staff.
Click here for more information on suicide prevention and helping a friend.
Counseling Services' staff counselors are available to consult with students who are concerned about a friend. If you are feeling overburdened and are wondering how to assist your friend, or wondering whether your friend could benefit from counseling, feel free to call us at the phone number below,
How do I talk to my friend?
- Plan your conversation. Talk to your friend in a calm, safe place. Avoid having a dramatic confrontation or shouting your concerns during an argument. You know your friend, what will help them feel less defensive? Thank about why you want them to seek help. Is this something that’s hurting them badly enough that they need to make a change? You can consult with UMSL Counseling Services if you think you need help figuring out what to say or how to say it.
- Focus on behaviors of concern rather than character flaws. Talk about what’s worrying you and express that you care. Seek a tone of compassion rather than blame:
- “You’re always getting in relationships with bad guys” is blame. “You seem to be crying and in pain a lot because of something he said and I’m worried about you.” is compassionate.
- “You’re drunk all the time.” is blame. “I’m worried that your drinking is messing up your academics, and having to fight with you about driving drunk is hurting our friendship.” is compassionate.
- Ask questions. Seek to understand. Some questions to consider:
- “What’s going on with you?”
- “Can I help?”
- “Do you think you have a problem?”
- “What would tell you you needed help?”
- If you’ve had therapy of your own, it may be helpful to talk about that. You can do a lot of good long before you have to talk to a friend by not minimizing or mocking struggles with mental health or those who do. Help create a safe environment!
- Don’t argue.
- Offer to go with your friend to UMSL Counseling Services.
- Realize you can’t force anyone to seek help. Express your concern, show you care, and invite them to talk to you any time. It can be painful to hear, pushing only shuts doors and can make your friend feel defensive. If your friend does not think they need to see a therapist, listen to them. They may be right.
- Consider if the problem affects you significantly enough to seek help of your own.
- If you think your friend is a suicide or homicide risk, call 911 or UMSL Counseling Services immediately.