Lake Superior State University
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Counseling Services

Helping a Friend or Family Member

Signs of Distress

Look for and beware of any of the following signs of distress:

  • Inability to concentrate, confusion, indecisiveness
  • Persistent worrying
  • Social isolation, depression
  • No interest in activities
  • Increased irritability, restlessness
  • Uncontrollable anger
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Bizarre or dangerous behavior
  • Missed class/ assignments, procrastination
  • Messy appearance
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Excessive alcohol or drug use
  • Talk of death or suicide

Your Response

Educate Yourself: Become Informed
It you notice signs of distress in a friend or family member and want to get involved, it helps if you become informed about the nature of the problem(s) your friend is confronting and the resources available to help them.  Some resources available to you can be found on our On-Line Resources page.

Involve yourself only as far as you are willing to go.  
At times, in an attempt to reach or help a troubled friend, you may become more involved than time or skill permits.  If you decide to take action, remember that your success and wellness is a priority and seek professional consultation and support if you begin to feel overwhelmed or frustrated.

Confronting a Friend
Confronting someone means that you have the courage to let your friend know what you have seen and heard, that you are concerned about them, and that you are willing to help.  Confronting should not include judging or attacking the person, nor should it be an effort to force the person to take action.  Listed below are some practical tips on confronting a friend.

  • Talk to him or her in private. This could help reduce embarrassment and defensiveness.
  • Be honest and specific. Explain why you want to have a serious talk and what you hope will happen (and what you hope doesn't happen). Example: " I am really worried about your drinking and I hope you won't just blow me off or think I am putting you down...I don't want to wreck our friendship..."
  • Openly acknowledge that you are aware of their distress.  If they do not think they are distressed but you see signs of distress, tell them what you have observed. It is important that you describe your observations in a non-judgmental way and express concern in your observations. Example: "Since last Friday night you have come back to our room really drunk four times, twice you said you drove home drunk and last night you threw up all over our floor..."
  • Strange or inappropriate behavior should not be ignored. Comment directly on what you have observed.
  • Speak directly and honestly and acknowledge you are sincerely concerned about their welfare. Express your feelings. Example: "I am really worried about you...I am scared to talk to you in a serious way because I think you don't believe you have a problem...and bringing it up might just piss you off..."
  • Let them know you are willing to help them explore their alternatives. Offer your recommendations. Example: "I really wish you would go talk to someone about your drinking...see if you do have a problem. You could either talk with the someone at Counseling Services... I can walk over with you... The services are free and they are on campus."
  • Listen carefully to what your friend is troubled about and try to see the issue from his/her point of view without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing. One way to communicate that you are listening and understand is to paraphrase what your friend says from their point of view and to then to restate your observations and recommendations.
  • Attempt to succinctly identify the problem or concern and explore alternatives to deal with the problem.
  • Refer to Counseling Services or outside professional help when appropriate.  Inform them that seeing the counselor does not mean they have some mental disorder . The counselor can help them identify what’s causing the problem and figure out ways to cope and get back on track.

Consultation with a Counselor:
If you are unsure of how to handle a situation with a friend or family member or begin to feel overwhelmed, we encourage you to consult with Counseling Services at 635-2752 or speak with an RA or CA if living on campus.

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