Should you Talk to Your Friend?

Yes, you should.  There is very little that can go wrong by sharing your concerns with your friend.  It’s how they know you’re a friend.

Here are a few myths worth dispelling:

  • Will my friend over-react or become upset? Probably not. They might not realize that their behavior is concerning and having a friend mirror their concerns can make a real difference.  Some friends do over-react and this is why it is important to be caring and objective in your approach. This is also why we want to you to set reasonable goals for your discussion.
  • Will you say the wrong thing? No, not if you share your concerns privately, without judgment, and with a willingness to listen to their perspective. We provide a basic “script” on how to have a conversation below.
  • Will you make things worse? No. Your willingness to help a friend shows that you care about them, which will be reflected in your communication with them.

Establish Reasonable Goals, Know Your Limits and Set Good Boundaries

Helping friends can be exhausting.  Here are some tips for taking care of yourself in the process:

  • Set Reasonable Expectations:  You must understand that not all concerns can be dealt with in a single conversation.  There will be setbacks; there will be disappointments; there will be struggles.  As you approach your friend, set a reasonable goal for yourself and for the conversation.
    • I just want them to know someone cares.
    • I want to offer a couple of options for them or offer to walk with them to get some help.
    • I want to give them a chance to explain things a bit so I can understand how to support them.
  • Understand Why You Are Approaching Them: Are they alienating people around them?  Are you afraid they might harm themselves?  Is their behavior keeping them from getting to class or attending social events?  Whatever the reason, go into a conversation knowing why you are talking to them.  Here are some hard truths:
    • This is not the conversation where you go in expecting an apology.
    • This is not the conversation where you expect them to recognize and acknowledge your anger, frustration, fear, or other emotions.  This conversation is not about you.  That is a different conversation.  While sharing how their behavior is impacting you can be part of the conversation, it cannot be a central feature – this is a conversation that requires non-judgement.  If you try to guilt them into understanding your own concerns, then the conversation will not progress.
    • If you are not ready for this conversation, don’t have it.  There could be a lot of reasons: you’re exhausted, you are too angry, you have your own history and experiences that you are working through.  Share your concerns with someone else (maybe our office) and ask that someone else have the conversation.  This is what it means to know your limits and set good boundaries.
  • Set Good Boundaries:  The popular concern expressed by friends of a student who is struggling is that they (the friends) are exhausted.  They are tired of staying up late, responding to crisis situations, and compromising their study/leisure time. Here are some common scenarios that we want to highlight:
    • Friends staying up in shifts to take care of a student.  You need sleep and the student needs urgent care.  If you are concerned that a friend might harm themselves if you are not there to take care of them, please have them contact a family member to be with them, contact our crisis counselors through campus dispatch (336.278.5555) or contact our emergency response staff (336.278.5555).  If this has already happened, let your friend know that going forward, you want to support them but will need to prioritize your own needs.
    • Friends dealing with abusive behavior.  Under no circumstances should you endure abusive language or behavior.  Let the friend know that you care about them and want to support them but that you cannot put up with this behavior.  Let them know that if it continues, you will need to take a step back from supporting them.  Let them know that you will be available to talk when they calm themselves.
    • Friends threatening to harm themselves if you don’t spend time with them (or implying that they will have no other option).  We ask that you immediately call our emergency response staff (336.278.5555) and ask for a welfare check.  There are no situations where you should “wait it out.” If this has already happened in the past, share with the student that you care enough about them to choose their safety over their friendship.
    • Friends who over-rely on you and refuse to seek outside support.  Share with your friend that you care deeply about them but that you cannot be available to them in the way they need.  Let them know that you will attend their first session (with a provider) with them or that you can have someone contact them for support (that’s our office).
  • Know your Limits:  Friends sometimes discuss issues that go well beyond our ability to listen and express support.  Encourage friends to get outside help and assist them to do so.  Be honest about what you can and cannot handle.  Prioritize your needs.

A Basic Script for Sharing Concerns:

Find a good place and time to chat.  If you expect this conversation will be awkward, say,
I think this is going to be a bit awkward but I thought it was important.”

  1. Describe Your Observations: Objectively describe the behaviors that you’ve noticed that lead you to be concerned: “I’ve noticed that… [describe what you’ve noticed
    1. You’re sleeping through your classes;
    2. You’ve been drinking a lot and not taking care of yourself;
    3. You’re getting angry with the people care most about you.”
  2. Share That You Are Concerned: Express openly that you are concerned and why: “I’m a bit concerned because… [keep it broad]:
    1. I’d hate to see you fall behind in classes;
    2. I want all of us to get along;
    3. This seems to be a shift from what I’m used to.”
  3. Ask For Your Friend’s Perspective: Ask your friend/peer to provide context for your observations. The assumption here is that you don’t have enough information to fully understand your observations and you’re looking to them to provide the missing context. You want to help, but you need more:
    1. “What’s going on?
    2. Is this new or something you’ve been dealing with for a while?
    3. What do you think?
    4. Any of this sound familiar?”
  4. Encourage Appropriate Connections: Ask your friend/peer what they are already doing for support. Encourage other connections:
    1. “What are you doing to take care of yourself right now?
    2. Are you connecting with some support here on campus?”,
    3. Does your family know what’s going on?” (Note: We do not expect you as their friend/peer to be aware of every resource that may be beneficial to them.)

What To Do Next

Here are a few follow-up items worth considering:

  • Follow-up: Check in with them regularly. Do they need anything? What steps are they taking? How do they want you to be involved (if at all)?
  • Should you share this concern with others?  Are their people that should know what’s happening so they are aware and can keep an eye out?  This could be their RA, their parents, their significant other.
  • Let us help.  We can provide coaching and will consult with you on best next steps.  If needed, we can reach out to your friend or just provide general support.  Click here to submit a Care Referral.