Counseling Center: Help a Friend

How to Help a Friend

Are you concerned about a friend that has mood swings, appears to be angry all of the time, worries all of the time, or seems to be distancing themselves from others? Trying to reach out to a friend that is having a difficult time can be awkward and it is hard to know what to say and where to begin. Often, reaching out to a friend can be the first step in getting them the right treatment and your support and encouragement go a long way.

Signs that a friend might be struggling

Seeing the following things might indicate a need to encourage a friend to reach out to the Counseling Center:

  • Abrupt/drastic changes in behavior
  • Increasing isolation from others (refusing to leave the dorm, not talking to friends)
  • Noticeable changes in mood, such as depression, apathy (not caring about anything), or intense irritability
  • Poor attendance in classes, “giving up” on academics
  • Inability to function (can’t get up in the mornings, always seems overwhelmed)
  • Sudden outbursts of anger
  • Excessive drug or alcohol use
  • A painful break-up
  • Significant change in personal hygiene/appearance (not showering or changing clothes)
  • Inappropriate or frequent crying
  • Bizarre, violent, or irrational statements or behavior
  • Homicidal or Suicidal statements***
  • Panic attacks or extreme anxiety

How can I talk with my friend about going to the Counseling Center?

Although it may feel awkward to talk with a friend about these personal issues, more often than not they will appreciate that you cared enough to reach out to them.  Find a quiet, calm moment and tell them that you would like to talk with them.  Let them know you are worried about them and want to help. Try to listen, and be as accepting as possible. Remember, you don’t have to fix their problems for them, just help steer them to the right resources! Let them know that you want to support them while they are having a difficult time, but that you think it would be helpful for them to reach out to the Counseling Center.  If they refuse, keep trying in future conversations. Don’t give up!  A good resource for helping someone who is thinking of suicide is the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

If your friend is in crisis:

  • Stay calm, and let your friend know that you feel they are in crisis.
  • Explain that you need some additional supports and call the Counseling Center at 412-397-5900. You can also stop by with them during business hours (Monday-Friday, 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM).
    • *** Emergency crisis: Call university police immediately at 412-397-2424.
    • Non-emergency crisis after hours: Tell a CA or call university police, and they will notify the Counseling Center.
  • The Counseling Center welcomes you to call for information, and we can offer suggestions about how to approach your friend.

Suicide Prevention

If you suspect that a friend is in imminent danger, call the University Police immediately at (412) 397-2424 or call 911 if they are off-campus. If you are concerned but don't feel they are in imminent danger, please contact the Counseling Center. For additional information about suicide risk factors and how to help someone, please click on the link below:

Important Information About Suicide

More Information on Supporting a Friend in Need

Active Minds - Be a Friend [From the Beginning to Always]
Comprehensive resource on how to be there for a friend during every step of their journey with mental health issues. Includes info on active listening, what to watch for before a friend gets help, what to expect with different illnesses, veterans issues, how to be supportive when your friend is in counseling/the hospital/in recovery, and the importance of self-care.

Half of Us - Help a Friend 
View videos of real-life stories and read tips on helping a friend who may be struggling.

To Report a Substance Use/Abuse Concern

Use the Substance Abuse form to report any concerns you may have about a student using/abusing drugs or alcohol. Do not use this form for an emergency! If this is an emergency...

  • On campus: contact the RMU Police immediately at 412-397-2424 to report your concerns
  • Off campus: call 911 for help