If you are worried about someone, don’t ignore it. You know this person better than anyone else on campus and you can help. Mental health problems don’t have to ruin a person’s life, they are treatable and can be overcome. If problems are ignored they can get worse.
If you just have a feeling something is off, I encourage you to trust your gut and ask the person about how they are doing. If you feel like they are at risk of killing themselves or harming someone else, ask them outright “Are you thinking of killing yourself (someone else)?” This question will not make the distress worse.
Your friend or loved one may need help if you notice any of these changes:
- A marked change in appearance or behavior — Someone who seemed goal oriented becomes unmotivated. Someone who normally cares about their appearance seems to not care anymore. Someone who is normally more modest in appearance or behavior suddenly seems to dress and/or act provocatively.
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs — Someone now seems to be drunk often or seems to need to drink just deal with the day, experiences black-outs or memory lapses, or intense irritability when alcohol or drugs is mentioned
- Isolating or withdrawing — Someone who normally will answer calls or texts and accepts invitations to hang out suddenly stops for no apparent reason.
I encourage you to try and talk with your friend or loved one about your concerns.
Tips for helpful communication:
- Give them your undivided attention — Don’t answer texts or phone calls during your conversation with the person.
- Keep your cool — You may hear any number of responses, keep your feelings in check and really try to communicate. Emoting (“freaking out”) at your friend is not going to help, it will only add to the distress and break down communication. You should talk to another friend or family member to attend to your feelings before and/or after confronting your friend or loved one.
- Try not to be judgmental — You don’t know for sure what is going on with that person, so approach that person with an open mind and really listen. Just being truly heard can decrease stress and deescalate a situation.
- Use observation statements — Examples: “You’ve seemed really tired lately, you don’t seem like your usual self”, “Last night you drank a lot and passed out at that party; I’ve noticed that this has happened the last couple parties we have gone to.”, “I noticed you haven’t wanted to hang out for a couple weeks now.”
- Use “I feel statements…” — “I feel statements…” are disarming and non-threatening. Examples: “I feel cool about however you want to look, but I’m just worried that maybe you aren’t feeling well lately.”, “I felt scared for you at that party, that you weren’t safe”, “I feel a little sad not getting to see you that much, I have missed hanging out with you, how are you doing?”
- Use open ended questions— These questions don’t allow for yes or no answers and the answer you want to hear is not embedded in the question. Example: “How’s it been going lately?”, “How have you been feeling lately?”, “What happened the other night?”
- DON’T diagnose — Leave the diagnosing to the counselors. You are trying to get that person professional help not BE the professional help. People tend to shut down communication and trust when they feel judged or criticized.
- DON’T tell them how they should feel — Comments like “Oh it couldn’t possibly be that bad, you are gonna be fine, you can get through this.” seem harmless enough, but statements like these can be discounting and disrespectful. More often these statements are said so that the helper feels better rather than the person needing help.
If you feel your friend may be experiencing some mental health or stress problems, or just may need some extra support, please encourage that person to come to Counseling Services or walk them over yourself. It may also be helpful to direct them to this website to familiarize them with our services. If you can’t get them to come here, you can always give us a call at 501-916-3185, email us or drop us a message in our Questions & Suggestions Box. We can reply to you to offer you support as well. Once we communicate with the person in distress, due to our professional standards of confidentiality, we cannot share any specific information with anyone, unless explicitly permitted in writing from our client. However, we will always take any information about a student that may need our help. We follow up with any tips about students in distress, we can’t force people to counseling, but we can invite them and let them know we care and support them. If they are experiencing a life and death emergency on campus please call DPS 916.3400, if you are off campus call 911.