Sometimes things don’t go our way or bad and unexpected things happen. It’s normal to get upset or sad during upsetting times, but if you feel that your friend isn’t responding normally it might mean that there’s something more serious going on. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (www.nami.org) wants you to know about these signs:
Withdrawing from social activities or appearing down for more than 2 weeks. This could mean crying regularly, feeling tired all the time or not wanting to hang out anymore.
Self-harming actions such as cutting or burning. Some people may begin to wear long sleeves or pants to cover up signs that they are doing this.
Threatening to kill his- or herself or making plans to do so. Although you may not know whether your friend is serious or not, it’s better to be safe and take things seriously.
Extreme out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors. Behaviors that can endanger his- or her own life as well as others, such as speeding excessively and not obeying traffic laws, might be a sign that something is wrong.
Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, including intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities like hanging out with friends.
Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight. Pay attention if your friend isn’t eating much at lunch or going to the bathroom right after meals.
Severe mood swings. Life is stressful, but if there seem to be outbursts that go beyond how other people would often act, it might mean something
Repeated use of drugs or alcohol. Coming to class hung over, showing up to sporting events intoxicated or wanting to bring drugs or alcohol into daily activities is not normal.
Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits. Your friend might be sleeping much more or much less or getting agitated
Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still.
1: SHARE YOUR CONCERNS
Share your observations with your friend. Focus on being nonjudgmental, compassionate and understanding. Use these “I” (instead of “you”) comments to get the conversation started.
- I’ve noticed you’re [sleeping more, eating less, etc.]. Is everything okay?
- I’ve noticed that you haven’t been acting like yourself lately. Is something going on?
- It makes me afraid to hear you talking like this. Let’s talk to someone about it.
2: REACH OUT
If a friend is in need, you don’t need to go at it alone. Try to find someone who might be understanding of your friend’s situation or be able to help. Your friend may feel cornered if you start involving others, so make sure to talk to your friend first. However, if it’s an emergency, you should call 911. Consider reaching out to:
- Friends and family
- School teachers or counselors
- Faith-based leaders
3: Offer Support
You can play an important role in helping a friend build a positive, social support network. Here are ways to do that:
- Check-in regularly. Call or text your friend once or twice a week. Let them know that you are there.
- Include your friend in your plans. Even if your friend doesn’t always come, they will probably appreciate being included.
- Learn more about mental health conditions. Find out more about what your friend is going through so you are better able to help.
- Avoid using judgmental or dismissive language, such as “you’ll get over it,” “toughen up,” “snap out of it.” Reassure them that everything will be okay and that you are there for them.
Being a friend means being there in easy times and more difficult times. If your friend is experiencing a mental health condition, this is a time when he or she needs you the most. Just talking about it might help your friend feel less alone.