Concern about a friend's mental health

If you are concerned that a friend or flatmate may be experiencing some mental health difficulties, there are a number of ways you may be able to help them:

Symptoms of possible mental health issues

You may be concerned because your friend or flatmate:

  • has changed a lot recently
  • seems depressed, tearful, anxious or paranoid
  • has stopped attending lectures or going out
  • seems to be acting self-destructively
  • has told you they don't want to go on living
  • is generally causing concern

Approach your friend

It can be difficult to know how to approach someone who you think might be experiencing some mental health difficulties. You might worry that you will say the wrong thing or make the situation worse. You might be concerned that you are interfering or that the person will be angry or upset with you. However, it is very unlikely that it will make things worse and your friend may be very relieved to have the chance to talk about how they feel.

Choose a time when you can be alone with your friend, in a private, quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Gently explain that you are concerned for them and explain what it is you are worried about. You may say something like, "It is difficult to say this, and I don’t want you to think that I am having a go at you or anything, but I care about you and I’m really worried about you..."

If your friend wants to talk

Listen carefully to what your friend is saying without interruption. Sharing similar feelings can help your friend not to feel alone, but try to avoid saying "I know how you feel" or "that happened to me" and going into long stories about yourself, as that can make someone feel silenced or that their story is not so important.

Ask your friend what they think would be helpful or what they think they need. Try to avoid making decisions for them or telling them what you would do in the same situation.

You could remind your friend about the professional help available both on and off campus and give him or her information about the support services. You could then wait a few days and then ask them again how they are feeling, and if they have talked to anyone about their problems or concerns. If they haven’t, you could explore with them anything that could be holding them back from doing this. You could also offer to go with your friend to an appointment to offer them moral support.

Try to:

  • Stay calm – appearing anxious can make your friend feel worse
  • Set limits – think about how much time, energy and attention you can offer – this won’t be limitless. You may need to set some boundaries
  • Say when you feel uncomfortable - eg. if your friend sends distressing texts and then doesn’t answer when you try to get in touch, explain calmly the effect this has on you, such as making you really worried
  • Look after yourself – take time out for yourself and keep up with the activities and other relationships that are important to you

If your friend doesn’t want to talk

If your friend doesn’t want to talk, let them know that you are there for them if they want to talk at another time. You could ask if there is anything else you can do to help, such as socialising or doing something practical for them. Remind them of the range of support services available.

If you remain concerned, you can always seek further advice from a mental health adviser in your Student Services Hub or report your concern online.

Remember!

  • You are not responsible for another person's actions or feelings.
  • You cannot compel someone to seek professional help, all you can do is ensure they are aware of the services and encourage them to make an appointment. If they choose not to do this, it's their decision.
  • However, if their behaviour is affecting others badly - seek advice.
  • If you become concerned about your friend's immediate safety, or the safety of others, you should contact security or the police/ambulance on 999.
Student Services Hub
Need help?

If you need any further help and advice, please contact or visit the Student Services Hub who will be happy to assist you.