In everyone’s lives, there are periods of sadness, discouragement, or difficulty in adjusting to new situations. It’s not unusual to experience these feelings, but they can become a concern if they are frequent or prolonged or if they interfere in daily life.

Unfortunately, it is often difficult for people to seek support for their concerns. As a friend or family member, how do you know when you should encourage someone to get professional advice about these problems? How can you help a person in need? What can you do if you think the situation is urgent?

First, you need to recognize the signs that indicate that someone needs help. Mental Health America has a short list of general symptoms that can apply to a number of mental health conditions. In adults, signs include:

  • confused thinking
  • prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • excessive fears, worries, and anxieties
  • social withdrawal
  • dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • strong feelings of anger
  • delusions or hallucinations
  • growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • suicidal thoughts
  • denial of obvious problems
  • numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • substance abuse

If a friend, family member, or fellow student is experiencing any of these symptoms and/or you have noticed changes in that person’s academic life, in behavior with others, and in daily habits, he or she may be experiencing something more than just stress. This person may benefit from talking to a healthcare professional about how they are feeling.

What can you do to help?

If you have decided to approach a friend, family member, or fellow student about your concerns, here are some suggestions that might be useful.

  • Talk to the individual in private when both of you have time and are not rushed.
  • Express your concern in specific nonjudgmental terms that reflect your concern for the well-being of the individual.
  • Listen to this person’s thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non-threatening way.
  • Let the friend, family member, or fellow student know that you believe a consultation with a healthcare professional, like a staff member at CAPS, could be helpful.
  • If he or she becomes defensive, simply restate your concerns and recommendations.

If you are approached by an individual seeking advice for problems he or she is experiencing, you can be supportive in a number of ways.

  • Offer emotional support through understanding, patience, and encouragement.
  • Engage the person in conversation and listen carefully.
  • Do not disparage feelings expressed, but point out realities and offer hope.
  • If you think this person is likely to harm him/herself, don’t be scared to call for medical attention. Sometimes the best way to be a friend is to get help, now. You could be saving a life.

The most important thing anyone can do for a person suffering from a mental health problem is to help him or her get an appropriate diagnosis and treatment from a health care professional.

Remember, all talk of suicide should be treated seriously and should be shared with someone in a position to help.

What if the situation is urgent?

Urgent situations include such things as an individual expressing threats of harm to self or others verbally or in writing, or exhibiting troublesome behavior, such as excessive rage and incoherent thoughts. In emergency situations:

  • Provide a quiet and safe place for the individual, free from objects that can be used to inflict harm
  • Do not leave the individual alone if at all possible
  • Maintain a calm and supportive attitude
  • Make arrangements for immediate assistance by contacting one or more of the following resources:
    • 24 hour assistance: Department of Public Safety 734.763.1131
    • Psychiatric Emergency Services (University Hospital) 734.996.4747
    • Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Monday-Thursday: 8am-7pm; Friday: 8am-5pm on during fall/winter semesters 734.764.8312