Counseling Services

How To Help a Friend

Concerned about someone? Find tips here to seize the awkward and help a friend.

On this page:

How to Tell if Someone is Struggling

It can be hard to tell if a friend is dealing with the normal stress of life: balancing school, work, family and relationships, or if they are in need of extra support and/or mental health treatment. Here are some signs of distress:

  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional responses
  • Withdrawal from activities or friends
  • Significant change in behavior, such as sleep or eating patterns or changes in attendance for classes or other activities
  • Perfectionism, procrastination, excessive worrying
  • Markedly changed patterns of interaction (avoiding participation or dominating discussion)

And these indicate more severe distress and may require outside help such as a Care Team referral or immediate intervention such as walking the friend down to Counseling Services , calling Campus Security at (808) 974-7911, the Crisis Line of Hawaiʻi at 1-800-753-6879 or 911:

  • Depressed mood such as feeling very sad and being isolated for more than two weeks
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene; swollen, red eyes; falling asleep in class; excessively active and talkative
  • Inability to communicate such as garbled, slurred, disjointed or incoherent speech
  • Loss of contact with reality
  • Seeing/hearing things that do not exist
  • Suicidal thoughts or intentions such as overtly discussing, joking or hinting that suicide is a current and viable option
  • Highly disruptive behavior
  • Homicidal threats or hostile, threatening or violent behavior

How to Help

What Helps What Hurts
You are important to me. Your life is important to me You have so much to live for. Why do you want to die?
You're not alone in this. I'm here for you. You'll be fine. Stop worrying.
Talk to me, I'm listening... Here's my advice...
It might not feel like it now, but the way you're feeling will change eventually. Look on the bright side.

More Tips

  • Talk to the friend in private when both of you have time
  • Use active listening skills and give your friend your undivided attention
  • Express your specific concern(s)
  • Share an observation “I’ve noticed you’ve been acting differently than you usually do and I’m concerned”
  • Listen in a non-judgmental, non-threatening way
  • Communicate your understanding by repeating back the core of what your friend has said
  • Avoid judging, evaluating, or criticizing
  • offer support such as, can I help with anything you need until you're feeling better?
  • Remember that mental health conditions are not any different than
  • Be a friend and keep checking in
  • Reassure them that things get better with support and services

Suggest the friend does an online mental health check-up.

Take a Training or Workshop

QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) Gatekeeper Suicide Prevention Workshop is like CPR for mental health. QPR is an evidence-based suicide prevention program that teaches people how to become suicide prevention gatekeepers. Gatekeepers know the risk factors and warning signs of suicide and how to ask if a person is thinking of suicide. They also are able to persuade the person to get help, and refer him or her to appropriate resources.

Kognito Trainings are online simulations that let you practice conversations with a virtual student, so you’ll know what to say in real life. You’ll learn how to determine when a friend needs help, how to talk with a friend who you’re worried about, and where you and your friend can turn to for help.

Email or go to the Suicide Prevention website to find out when the next training or workshop will be!

Caring for yourself

You cannot help someone else unless you are taking care of yourself. Don't forget your own basic needs while you are helping your friend. It is also important to know your own limits and to set boundaries. Your mental health is also important! Make sure to reach out and talk to someone you trust about your feelings - it can be exhausting to take care of your own responsibilities while also helping a friend. You are not a counselor, and you may start to feel worried about the responsibility of helping your friend and saying and doing the right thing. Referring your friend to a professional will allow your friend to get the help they need and take a load off your shoulders.

  • Eat well and stay hydrated
  • Sleep well - more about Sleep Hygiene (yes, it's a thing)
  • Exercise
  • Manage your stress
  • Set boundaries
  • Get your own support
  • Refer your friend to a professional


In a Crisis

Visit our Emergency Assistance page for guidance.