How to Help a Friend

Counseling Services

Creighton University
Harper 1034, Ground floor
Omaha, Nebraska 68178
Phone: (402) 280-2735

8:00-4:30 Monday
10:00-6:30 Tuesday
8:00-6:30 Wednesday
8:00-4:30 Thursday - Friday

Summer Hours

8:00-4:30 Monday - Friday

How to Help a Friend

Are you concerned about a friend’s behavior or emotional state?  Are you wondering if there is anything you can do to help?
Sometimes, just talking with your friend openly about your concerns can help. However, it might be difficult to know what to say—or it might become clear that talking will not be enough.
At such times, being a good friend might involve stepping beyond the usual boundaries of your friendship. This might mean having a more serious conversation than you are used to having. It might mean saying things you know your friend does not want to hear. It might even mean saying or doing something that your friend, at least initially, will resent. It might risk your friendship, and still be the right thing to do.
The following link provides an interactive tool created and maintained by the University of Minnesota to help students identify peers who may have mental health concerns, effectively engage in conversation to better understand a peer's concerns, and assist peers in connecting with appropriate campus resources:
First, let’s distinguish between more ongoing and more urgent concerns. If your friend is in crisis—in danger of harming him/herself or someone else—read “WHAT IF IT’S A CRISIS?” below.
Otherwise, assuming it’s not an immediate crisis, how do you know that help is really needed? Everyone gets distressed at times. When are normal friendship and gentle advice probably not enough?
If signs like the following are continuing, more help is needed:

■Withdrawing from friends or activities
■Chronically missing classes 
■Major sleep or appetite change
■Deteriorating hygiene and overall self-care
■Declining academic performance
■Irritability; frequent arguments and conflicts
■Binge drinking or drug use
■Self-injurious behavior
■Excessive worry, anxiety, fear, or panic
■Feelings of hopeless, worthlessness, and/or thoughts of suicide
■Loss of energy, motivation, interests
■Risky sexual activity
■Mood swings
■Expression of thoughts about dying or suicide


■Speak up.  Find or make a time, and express your concerns. It shows you care!
■Use “I” statements.  Without judging your friend, express how you feel. Be specific:  “I’m concerned about your drinking lately.”  “I’m worried about how sad you seem.”  “I want to be able to offer you my support.”
■Listen.  Once you’ve expressed your feelings, encourage your friend to talk. Then really listen.
■Clarify.  Reflect back what you are hearing. Help clarify the problem.
■Offer your support.  For now and in the future.
■Brainstorm.  Help your friend look for ways forward, and ways you can be helpful.
■Help them expand their support network.  Urge your friend to talk to other friends and family, and to try some of the University’s resources. The Counseling Center is the ideal place to start. 
■Don’t take it on alone.  You may not feel qualified to help your friend with their problems. Learn about resources on campus such as counseling, health services, mentoring, and spiritual guidance. The Counseling Center can educate you about these resources, and guide you in helping your friend. And please consider talking with us about getting you some support. Helping others can be stressful.
■Stay in touch.  Don’t speak up once and then let it drop. Even if your friend is not receptive at first, mention your concerns again.
■The 'A friend asks' website linked below is maintained by the Jason Foundation, which is dedicated to the prevention of suicide through educational and awareness programs.  There are Apple and Android apps for suicide prevention tips available here also.  Please see the emergency contact information page in the case of a crisis.                                                      
If your friend won’t listen, isn’t trying other resources, or otherwise seems stuck, recommend that they “just try one visit” to the Counseling Center. It doesn’t commit them to counseling. They can just see how it feels, see what the counselor recommends, and then think about it. Tell them to check out our website.  You might even offer to accompany them, if that would help.
What, though, if they won’t even try one visit? Then you should consider speaking with a counselor, to see what else might be tried. Over the phone or in person, you can say what has been happening and get some advice on how to proceed.
If your friend is so impaired that they are at risk of harming themselves or someone else, immediate action is required to help them. See emergency contact information.
If they are in emotional turmoil and confusion, not thinking clearly, not perceiving things clearly, or behaving bizarrely, this too constitutes an emergency and immediate action is necessary. This is true as well for any statements or behavior reflecting thoughts of self-harm or of harming someone else. In all these cases, follow the crisis directions above.