Worried about a Friend? Here's How to Help Before Things Get Too Serious
Our texters worry about their friends. We see more conversations about how to help a friend than we do grief, bullying, or substance abuse. This fear can be exacerbated when the friend is struggling with mental illness. When someone is struggling with their mental health, there is an increased likelihood for a crisis. A crisis situation exists any time that someone is no longer safe to themselves or those around them. Depending on the severity of the situation, immediate action may be necessary.
Supportive friends can play a vital role in the mental health recovery process. It's critical to recognize the warning signs that may indicate a mental health crisis developing. Some common signs friends can be aware of include:
Inability to perform daily tasks, such as bathing, brushing teeth, brushing hair, or changing clothes.
Rapid mood swings, including increased energy level, inability to stay still, pacing, withdrawing from social situations, sudden happiness or calm after a period of depression.
Increased agitation verbal threats, violent, out-of-control behavior, destruction of property.
Abusive behavior towards self and others, including substance use or self-harm.
Isolation from school, work, family, friends.
Loses touch with reality (psychosis), unable to recognize family or friends, confused, strange ideas, thinks they’re someone they’re not, doesn’t understand what people are saying, hears voices, sees things that aren’t there.
Paranoia, suspicion and mistrust of people or their actions without evidence or justification.
Friends may be in a better position to recognize these signs than family are. It's important to recognize these signs early-- a crisis can be a matter of life or death in the worst case scenarios. It all can be incredibly overwhelming. However, managing crises can be a little less nerve racking if you know the proper steps to take to help a friend. So where do you begin?
One of the best ways to support a friend is to reassure them that they are not alone. Take the time to educate yourself on what your friend may be going through. A plethora of mental health resources available are available online. Find ways to talk to your friend about their experience. Listen to a podcast together about mental health, or watch a documentary. You can listen to real life stories together that shed light on topics you may be unfamiliar with.
Lend An Ear
If you notice warning signs, start a conversation with your friend. It doesn’t have to be formal or unnatural. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests starting with observations. For example, “I’ve noticed lately that you [haven’t been sleeping, aren’t interested in soccer anymore, which you used to love, are posting a lot of sad song lyrics online, etc.] …”. From there, it’s important to provide support and reassurance. You can respond with, “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help.” Sometimes, just knowing that someone is there for you can make a world of difference. Good listening techniques like staying calm and asking how you can support them may help de-escalate a crisis.
Guide Them to Resources
If your friend doesn’t feel completely comfortable talking to you, offer them alternative options, like Crisis Text Line. Let your friend know that they can text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States, anytime, about any type of crisis. From there, your friend will receive support from a trained Crisis Counselor.
Be Alert and Ready
If you are worried that a friend is thinking about suicide, it’s important to take immediate action. The most important thing to consider is the safety of your friend. Do you feel your friend is in immediate danger to themselves or others? Can you handle the situation yourself or do you need help? If the answer to either question is yes, seek professional help and call 911.
We cannot predict when a friend will experience a crisis related to mental illness. However, we can be proactive by learning about how to manage mental health effectively. Sit down with your friend and create a crisis plan that you both feel comfortable with. This can include information such as:
Person’s general information (name, age, address, etc.)
Family information and emergency contacts
Current diagnoses, along with any medications and dosages
Behavior patterns present before the crisis occurs
Strategies and treatments that have worked in the past, including a list of triggers that may make the situation worse and a list of what helps calm the person down
By creating a crisis plan together, you can move forward with the right information to make sure the resources you provide are effective, accurate, and appropriate in case of future crises.