Because it's Your Health...Tip of the Week: Helping a Friend

Tip of the Week: Helping a Friend

Have any of your friends ever been depressed? What if your friend talks about killing himself or herself? How do you handle it if you discover that your friend cuts his or her skin to feel better? What if you think your friend might have an eating disorder? These are all challenging situations to handle; it's easy for your friend's problem to become your problem. Here are some tips for confronting your friend about the situation:

1. Talk to your friend individually. Do not involve others, such as your friend's parents, until you have spoken with your friend first. If several roommates are involved, you may all wish to meet ahead of time to determine who should initiate the discussion.

2. Pick a time to talk when you are feeling calm and when you will not be interrupted. Do not bring up the subject when you are hurt, angry or upset. Allow sufficient time to talk to your friend.

3.Consider writing down what you want to say ahead of time. Three important things to address during the discussion are what your worries are, how you feel and what you would like the outcome to be.

4.Focus on the specific behaviors that are worrying you. Be as direct and frank with your friend as you can. It can also be helpful to use "I" statements to express how you feel - e.g., "I feel very anxious when I see that you are skipping dinner," or "I feel sad when you say you don't want to live anymore."

5.Let your friend know what resources are available. For example, you can suggest that your friend make an appointment with Counseling Services; you may also want to mention that the Counseling Services Web site offers free, anonymous online screenings for depression, eating disorders, substance abuse and other issues (

The following do's and don'ts might also be helpful:

Eating Disorders:

• DO NOT make comments on your friend's food intake, weight or appearance.

• DO ask how your friend is feeling and offer to talk.

Thoughts of Suicide:

• DO NOT make any promises to keep secrets for your friend if you suspect his/her life might be at risk.

• DO take your friend's thoughts seriously, expressing your concern and your support.

• DO involve others - don't hesitate to talk to another friend, your RA/RD, your friend's parents, Counseling Services, University Police - just DON'T feel like you have to handle the situation alone.

Self-harming behavior (cutting, burning, etc.):

• DO NOT react to your friend as if she/he is crazy.

• DO acknowledge your friend's pain and his/her use of self-harm as a means to cope with this pain.

Always remember, you are not your friend's therapist! It is not up to you to say the "right" thing, to get to the root of your friend's problem, or to "cure" your friend. If you find that dealing with your friend's issues overwhelms you, you may want to consider speaking with a counselor yourself for additional support and guidance. (Call Counseling Services at 245-5716 to schedule an appointment.)