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Calm in a Crisis: How to Help a Friend


By Amanda Curtis, B.S. Social Work Intern
While college can be an exciting time, it is also a time of adjusting to many changes. Students have to adapt to the challenges presented by academics, being away from home, making new friends, adjusting to roommates, and self-discovery. Sometimes it can just be too much. When we feel overwhelmed, we can experience the psychological and physiological symptoms of stress, anxiety or even depression.  Many college students are able to find healthy ways to cope and adjust such as joining a club, intramurals or finding a job. However, some students become increasingly depressed and feel like they don’t know how to deal with it all. A small percentage of college students commit suicide each year. If you are worried about a friend or someone you know, consider the following warning signs:

  • Hopelessness: no hope for the future, doesn’t believe that their situation will change or get better, feels trapped or stuck, depressed mood, feels as if life has no purpose
  • Social isolation: withdraws from friends and family, may stop attending classes or hanging out with friends, missing out an activities that they usually participated in
  • Self-Esteem: expresses negative feelings towards themselves, feels guilty, ashamed, or that everyone would be better off without them
  • Changes in mood, appetite, and loss of interest in things that once made them happy
  • Risky behavior: behavior that is often self-destructive, acts increasingly impulsive, increased alcohol and/or drug use, recklessness, disregard for negative consequences of their risky actions
  • Talks about death and dying; might write good-bye letters or give possessions away

If you are worried about a friend, say something! Take any of the above warning signs seriously.WHAT TO DO:

*Choose a time and place to talk to your friend: turn off the TV or ipod and talk in a quiet, private place
*Say what you see: “You don’t seem like yourself lately” or “You seem down all the time” or “You don’t go to class much and that’s not like you”
*Listen to them: without judging, don’t act shocked or surprised by what they have to say
*Be supportive and open: offer your help and hope
*How you can help:  Ask them. Do they just want to vent? Are they looking for advice? If it’s a concern that’s over your head, that’s a good time to refer them for counseling. See our webpage on
*Ask the question: “Do you feel suicidal?” If you are worried about it, then there is probably a reason to worry. They won’t be offended.
                ***If they say “yes”: Go get help immediately. DO NOT try and deal with this on your own!***

Do not allow someone to swear you to secrecy if they are suicidal. Be clear with them that you want to help them because you care for them. If they are currently suicidal, contact UPD (436-3550), the local 24-hour Crisis Hotline 24 hours a day/7 days a week (1-844-732-6228), or call 9-1-1. Your RA or RD can also help you to decide if you need to call for immediate help. Whatever you do, get help!

More about How to Help in an Emotional Crisis.

See also the Counseling Center’s webpage for Emergencies and Worried about a Friend.