How to Help A Friend
As a teen or young adult, you’re likely to confide in a good friend to talk about your troubles. When you and your friends turn to each other to talk about problems, you depend on each other for advice and guidance. As your independence grows, it is important and good to help friends and look out for each other, but this gives you responsibility to learn when it’s time to address a problem or share a difficult situation with a trusted adult or parent.
As an older teen, you’re entering a time of life when mental health issues begin to emerge and when personal problems can be more complicated or serious – you don’t need to be a trained mental health professional to recognize and do something for a friend who is struggling.
It is common to have periods of difficulty throughout our lives. At times, difficulties are no more than brief challenges that are part of growing up. However, sometimes common issues can intensify and/or lead to more serious problems that require more help. You may be wondering, “How on earth can I tell the difference?” Some key signs that tell us it is time to get help include:
- Problems are severe or intense, last a long time, or keep getting worse.
- Difficulties seem to be repeating themselves, interfering with normal (day to day) functioning
- The usual ways of dealing with things are not working, and/or
- Thoughts or impulses of self-harm or harming others are present
If your gut tells you NOT to “drop it”
Sometimes, even when your friend tells you that “everything’s OK,” something tells you it’s not. It is always good to encourage them to get help. If they are not ready to follow your advice, the best thing to do is share your concerns with someone (family, another friend) you trust. If you’re unsure where to turn, another good resource would be a counselor, teacher or coach at school – they are usually familiar with the problems that teens face.
You might feel bad about going behind a friend’s back to talk about their private struggles, and you might worry that you’ll ruin a friendship by “ratting them out.” Try to remember that if your heart tells you that your friend needs help, this is not the time to keep secrets. It is always sensible to go with your gut and get advice when you can’t ignore your concerns – you shouldn’t have to be alone when you’re helping a friend who worries you. In a strong friendship, your friend will be grateful for your help once they feel better. Read more about how to tell if a friend is struggling and how you can help.
Asking about suicidal thoughts
If you have any concern that a friend is having thoughts of death or suicide, it is very important to ask about it directly. You can say something like, “are you feeling like you’d like to give up on things or on life?” or more directly (if they’ve given you clues like saying they are giving up) “so are you having thoughts about hurting or killing yourself?” You won’t plant the idea of suicide into a person’s thoughts by mentioning it. The benefits of asking someone if they are having suicidal thoughts greatly outweigh the risks. If you’re unsure about the signs that someone may be at risk for suicide, read more here.