Loughborough University
Leicestershire, UK
LE11 3TU
+44 (0)1509 263171
Loughborough University

Health and wellbeing

Helping a friend

Friends chatting over coffee

It is sometimes easy to overlook how much difference we can make by offering a listening ear to someone close to us who is suffering.

It may seem difficult to approach someone if you can’t see their problems from the outside, or if you fear getting involved. But it is important not to ignore your concerns; by using the information below you can learn how to help without taking on personal responsibility for the problem.

When to help

People will express suffering in many different ways. The key is to go with your instincts, and if you do notice significant behavioural or emotional changes in a friend, try not to ignore this.

If someone has become noticeably disengaged, lethargic or un-motivated in their working or social environment, this could indicate a problem. If they are frequently ill, un-kempt or drinking excessively, this could also be a sign.

Furthermore, if you notice sudden mood changes, anxiety or irrational beliefs in a friend, this may be time to offer some help.

Tips on how to help

Take a few steps to offer support, and if you don’t feel comfortable, speak to a caring relative or senior member of staff to explain your concerns.

  • Try talking to your friend and telling them you are concerned; this opens the opportunity to discuss their issues. Try to respect if they do not wish to talk about their problems.
  • Be prepared that the situation may only require sympathetic listening. That can sometimes mean it’s best to avoid practical advice.
  • Identify support networks from the services listed. This will also help you to avoid taking on responsibility for the problems yourself.
  • If your friend refuses help and you are still concerned, speak to someone in a specialist support service. You do not need to mention their name when asking for advice; in this way you are not breaking their confidence.

There may be exceptional circumstances where there is a need to act without consent, e.g. if health has deteriorated to the extent of threatening a person’s personal safety or that of others.

Who else can help

1 in 4 people will suffer a mental health problem at some point of their life, and this may be shown through behavioural or emotional change in a person.

Before helping, remember...

  • Set ground rules about how much help you are able to offer. Agree a certain time and place to talk, and to help with certain things.
  • Seek reliable information about the problem which your friend is having. This will make it easier to ask questions and respond appropriately.
  • If helping your friend becomes too difficult, you can explain that you still care, but you believe professionals will be better equipped to help. You could offer to be there during contact with these services.