Helping a Friend

Are you concerned about a friend?

You may have noticed a friend’s behavior that makes you concerned for their well-being, whether it is your friend’s depression or academic issues, a roommate’s drinking, or something else. It can be difficult to know when and how to help in these situations.

This page offers tips for starting a conversation with your friend about their concerning behavior. It is important to recognize that helping a friend doesn’t mean:

  • Diagnosing them
  • Giving them medical advice
  • Making decisions for them

However, there are steps you can take to help when you are worried.

What to look for

There are some signs that may indicate a friend could use your help.

Your friend may be:

  • Reluctant to hang out as much
  • Noticeably anxious
  • Acting weird or getting angry for no reason
  • Taking risks that could be dangerous or harmful
  • Talking about feeling hopeless
  • Taking more drugs or drinking more alcohol than before
  • Unconcerned with their schoolwork
  • Harming themselves

How to help

  • Have a plan in place for what you want to say.
  • Approach you friend when they are alone.
  • Let them know you are worried—Explain your reasons for being concerned and tell them you are talking to them because you are worried about their well-being.
  • Use “I” statements about how their behavior has impacted you
  • Listen to what they have to say—Part of being supportive is listening in a non-judgmental way, asking questions for clarification and accepting all that your friend has to say as true from their perspective.
  • Offer to help them find resources.
  • Ask if they need help with anything, like studying or grocery shopping.
  • The Seize the Awkward campaign has further tips: What’s Seize the Awkward?

Conversation starters

Here are a few ideas on how you can start a conversation with your friend.

  • “How have you been? I’ve noticed you missed class a few times.”
  • “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately. Is everything okay?”
  • “When you’re ready to talk, I’m here to listen.”
  • “Life can be overwhelming sometimes. I’m here to talk if you need me.”

What not to do

  • Don’t make it about you—instead, share how the person’s behavior makes you feel but don’t focus only on how it has affected you. Keep the focus on your friend.
  • Avoid using judgmental language or labels such as “alcoholic” or “addicted”.
  • Avoid pushing your own values and ideals on the person.
  • Avoid directing anger at the person. Be sure your anger is directed at the behavior.
  • Don’t worry about the conversation being awkward!  

What to do if a friend isn’t ready to find help

After talking to your friend, they may decide not to seek help or change their behavior. It is important to remember that unless your friend is in danger of hurting themselves or others, seeking help is their decision. Continuing to be supportive by listening and offering to help is the best thing you can do. If your friend decides to seek help in the future, they will know you are there for them.

Taking care of yourself

Worrying about someone else can take a toll on your own well-being. You may find yourself having difficulty concentrating at your work-study job or getting distracted when you’re trying to study for your big exam. Here are some things you can do to protect your own well-being:

  • Make sure you make time for yourself to do something you enjoy.
  • Remember that it is ultimately your friend’s decision to change a behavior or seek help. Don’t beat yourself up if you reach out and nothing changes.
  • Reach out for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed. CAPS, Wolverine Wellness, and other campus resources are here to support you.

In an emergency

More information and where to find help