The demands of college life are often challenging. Balancing work, family, friends, classes, and studying can be overwhelming at times; especially when stressors like an argument with a friend, a failed assignment, or car trouble add to an already demanding life.
While all of us have to deal with stressful circumstances, there may be a point when this crosses over to distress. Sometimes when people are overwhelmed or distressed, they may not seek help on their own, but they are willing to turn to someone they trust. Just talking to you may make a difference, and if more help is required, you may be the first link in getting your friend the support and assistance they need.
How Can I Tell If My Friend Is Struggling?
When people are having a hard time, they often display changes in their moods and patterns of behavior. Here are some signs and indictors of distress.
Distress Symptoms and Behaviors
Heightened emotions- Nervousness, anxiety, agitation, irritability, angry outbursts
Depressed feelings- Profound sadness, guilt, or shame; feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, or hopelessness
Withdrawal- Distancing from friends or family, avoiding social activities
Change in energy level- inability to slow down, restlessness, and disruptive behavior; loss of energy, lethargy, feelings of exhaustion
Changes in sleeping or eating patterns- sleeping too much, insomnia, fatigue; eating more or less than usual
Academic problems- difficulty concentrating, missing classes, or failed assignments
Apathy- Loss of interest, pleasure, or motivation
Changes in thought processing- Problems concentrating or making decisions, impulsive decision making
Suicidal thinking- Talking about death or suicide, wishing they were dead, giving up hope that things will get better, significant changes in behavior/performance, making final plans or saying good-bye
What Can I Do To Help My Friend?
Talk privately. Let them know you are worried about them.
Tell them what you are observing that is leading you to be concerned; avoid labeling or putting the person down.
Ask open ended questions. Really listen... and communicate that you care.
Don't promise to keep threats to self or others a secret. If they are suicidal or at risk for acting out, talk to someone who can help assist you and them.
Refer them to a helping professional (counselor, pastor, RA hall director). Explain to them the support they can get from talking to a counselor and help them set up an appointment.
Follow up with them. Let them know that you still respect and care about how they are doing. Ask them to update you on how they are doing. For example, if they saw a counselor- follow up to make sure it was helpful; if not, get them set up with someone else.
How Can I Get Help for My Friend?
Find out what resources are available. On campus, the Student Counseling Center offers services for UCO students. For more information, call 974-2215 or visit the student counseling website to find out more about what is offered.
Help your friend obtain counseling services.
Best approach: Offer to walk them over to the Student Counseling Center while they schedule an appointment and/or to accompany them to their first appointment.
2nd best approach: Offer to start the phone call to set an appointment for them.
3rd best approach: Provide the Student Counseling Center website and/or give your friend the phone number to call.
If you are concerned about a friend, but they won't get assistance from a professional- call and consult with one of the staff at the Student Counseling Center. The counselor can give you tips and ways of approaching your friend that may facilitate them getting help.