Help a Friend
Balancing all life’s demands — school, work, relationships — can be stressful and many people get overwhelmed, anxious and overexerted – so it can be tough to tell if someone is just dealing with the everyday challenges of life or struggling with a larger problem. A person in trouble might need professional help to develop better coping and stress management skills, or they may be dealing with illnesses like depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorders that generally require attention and treatment.
Here are some common signs that someone needs help dealing with emotional issues or a mental health problem:
- Depression or apathy that interferes with obligations or participating in social activities
- Lack of coping skills around day-to-day problems or extreme reactions to certain situations
- Extreme highs, referred to as mania, that may include rushed thoughts, bursts of energy, sleeplessness and compulsive behavior (like excessive spending or promiscuous sexual behavior)
- Severe anxiety or stress
- Constant feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
How you respond to someone that is showing signs of emotional distress or a potential problem is often dependent on your relationship with that person. If you have a long history with the person, you may be a key resource for support and feel comfortable having a discussion with them about how they are feeling. If the person struggling is a more recent acquaintance, your role may involve letting someone else know about the problem. Regardless, it is important to remember that you aren’t a therapist and it isn’t your job to provide treatment. Your role is to be supportive and encourage them to reach out to other family, friends, medical or mental health professionals as a first step — even if you don’t fully understand the problem or its severity. Despite your good intentions, they might be reluctant to accept the possibility that they could have an emotional disorder and they may not react to support in a positive way. They might say that the best way to help is to “back off” or ignore the problem, but it is important that you don’t:
- Enable them by covering up for missed obligations
- Continue to participate with them in behaviors (like drinking) that are agitating their mental health
- Back down on the importance of seeking help – remember, many emotional disorders require professional support and aren’t something people can fix on their own
- Feel like you are going behind their back if you think it’s necessary to tell someone else about the problem without their consent
- Taking on the burden of a loved one in emotional distress can be extremely stressful and draining so remember to recognize your limits and take care of your own emotional health.
When we see someone who is sad, angry or anxious, it is our instinct to ask “what’s wrong?” However, someone dealing with a mental health problem may have certain thoughts or feelings that aren’t related to a specific situation or event. So when approaching a family member, friend or co-worker who is showing signs of a problem or dealing with emotional distress, it is important to be patient and supportive. You may not be able to understand exactly how they are feeling and it may seem uncomfortable or awkward to discuss personal and emotional issues, but you can listen and let them know they aren’t alone. Here are some key points you can communicate to someone in need:
- We all go through tough times. Sometimes people see asking for help as a sign of weakness so you can comfort them by giving them an example of a time you or someone you know struggled and needed support.
- You can feel better. They may feel hopeless or like no one can understand or help them, so it’s important to make them see that reaching out for support is the first step to feeling better.
- Mental health problems are treatable and manageable once identified, so sometimes we need a mental check-up in the same way we get other medical exams.
- It’s OK to ask for help. Remember, that our backgrounds, cultures and experiences can have a huge impact on how we view help-seeking. Some people may come from families or ethnic groups where asking for help or seeing a mental health professional is shunned or thought of as weak. Thinking about why a friend might be reluctant get help can be important in deciding how to suggest they reach out for support.
If you are concerned that they might be thinking about harming themselves or someone else, it is important that you don’t try and deal with that situation alone. You can call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for guidance or 911 if it is immediate danger.
WAYS TO BE HELPFUL TO SOMEONE WHO IS THREATENING SUICIDE:
- Be aware. Listen to them and learn the warning signs.
- Get involved. Become available. Show interest and support.
- Ask if he/she is thinking about suicide. Be direct. Talk openly and freely about suicide.
- Be willing to listen. Allow them to talk openly about their feelings.
- Be non-judgmental. Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or feelings are good or bad. Don’t lecture on the value of life.
- Don’t dare him/her to do it.
- Don’t give advice by making decisions for someone else to tell them to behave differently.
- Don’t ask ‘why’. This encourages defensiveness.
- Offer empathy, not sympathy.
- Don’t act shocked. This creates distance.
- Don’t be sworn to secrecy. Secrets can be deadly.
- Offer hope that alternatives are available.
- Take action! Remove lethal means. Get help from individuals or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
BE AWARE OF FEELINGS, THOUGHTS, AND BEHAVIORS
Nearly everyone at some time in his or her life thinks about suicide. Most everyone decides to live because they come to realize that the crisis is temporary, but death is not. On the other hand, people in the midst of a crisis often perceive their dilemma as inescapable and feel an utter loss of control. Frequently, they:
- Can’t stop the pain
- Can’t think clearly
- Can’t make decisions
- Can’t see any way out
- Can’t sleep, eat or work
- Can’t get out of the depression
- Can’t make the sadness of away
- Can’t see the possibility of change
- Can’t see themselves as worthwhile
- Can’t get someone’s attention
- Can’t see to get control
TALK TO SOMEONE – YOU ARE NOT ALONE
- A community mental health agency
- A school counselor or psychologist
- A suicide prevention/crisis intervention center
- A private therapist
- A family physician
- A religious/spiritual leader