How to help a friend

If you know someone who is experiencing personal difficulties, do you know what to do to help?

Many people who experience problems often hide their feelings and may be unwilling to share their difficulties. Some may feel embarrassed, or concerned about the effects of telling someone, others just hope the problem will go away. 

There are, however, sometimes signs which can alert you to the fact that a friend, or fellow student is experiencing personal problems:

  • non-attendance at lectures/seminars over a period of time
  • deterioration of academic work, lack of motivation
  • anxious/tense behaviour/ constantly worrying
  • lack of confidence
  • overconfidence/arrogance
  • attention seeking
  • sleeping problems
  • pronounced mood changes
  • noticeable deterioration in clothing/personal hygiene
  • recurrent smell of alcohol
  • lack of concentration
  • spends frequent amounts of time alone
  • repeated minor illnesses

What can you do to help?

These signs are only indicators and may not necessarily mean there is a problem. However, if you are worried about someone you know, talk to them about your concerns discreetly and tactfully.

Try not to tell them they ‘shouldn’t be feeling like that’ or to ‘snap out of it’ but instead take their situation seriously, give them some time and listen patiently. You could ask your friend what they think might help. It can sometimes too be helpful to remind your friend of their achievements from times when they felt better. Sometimes suggesting relaxing activities can help, especially if they can do them with someone and not feel so alone.

Done in a caring and honest way, your existing relationship is unlikely to be affected. Many people who have experienced difficulties say that the most useful thing someone can do is ask how things are.

If you are worried about someone, there are plenty of people at the University who can help, and with whom you can even share your own concerns in confidence. You could encourage your friend to seek help too, whether it is for something practical or emotional.

One important tip is to try not to take on too much yourself – be realistic about what you can do.

For more help and advice, see our list of useful contacts