How to Help a Friend or Partner

For a person who is struggling, having a supportive friend or partner may mean the difference between life and death.  Although having a friend or partner who needs help can be uncomfortable or frightening sometimes, it is important for each of us to do what we can when someone needs us.

  • Don’t ignore/avoid the problem or your friend.  You may feel afraid that you will say or do the wrong thing, or that you will make the situation worse.  However, it usually just isolates the person. Ignoring it may make your friend feel as if you don’t care and it’s not going to help him or her get better. 
  • Avoid asking “why” questions, or pressing for details.  Especially if your friend has been sexually assaulted, avoid pressing them for details of what happened; it can be re-traumatizing. You can invite them to share as much or little as they like, but don’t push. “Why” questions, like “Why did you do xyz?”, can seem like you are blaming the person for their choices, rather than keeping the responsibility with the perpetrator.
  • Don’t isolate your friend.  You might get frustrated sometimes when you feel that (s)he isn’t listening to your advice or your concerns, or taking action.  That’s ok.  It’s important for your friend to make his or her own decisions, even if they aren’t always decisions that you would choose.  That doesn’t mean that you should isolate him or her out of frustration…try to be patient, and keep letting them know you care.
  • Suggest they seek help.  If your friend is in acute medical danger or is talking about suicide, it is important for you to act.  Although you should talk to your friend before you do, you may not be able to convince them to seek help.  If you feel that there is a medical emergency, get help. If it’s not an emergency, offer to go with them to the Counseling Center or University Health Center; it can help it feel less intimidating.
  • Use “I” statements when talking to your friend.  Using “you” statements can sound like you are blaming someone, even when you don’t intend to.  Use “I” statements when talking to your friend, e.g. “I’ve noticed that you are eating very little, and I’m worried about you” rather than “You aren’t eating enough”.
  • Don’t force them to do anything.  Offer options, but unless you think they are in immediate danger and need to call 911, don’t force them to take any actions, like reporting an assault to the police or University.    
  • Don’t assume that your friend can just “get over it”.  A traumatic experience, drug or alcohol abuse, eating concerns, self-injury behaviors, and depression are serious problems that require professional help and treatment.  They are not caused because your friend is weak or because they are not trying to get better.  Healing and recovery is a process and can take a long time.
  • Keep your friend’s information confidential.  Don’t talk about your friend’s issues with other people, unless your friend has given you permission to do so. You can share your concern with others, but disclosing information like the fact that they have been assaulted, or have a specific diagnosis can be really damaging if they aren’t ready for other people to know—and sometimes there can be safety issues depending on their situation.  Just because your friend has talked to you about his or her issues does not mean that your friend is comfortable talking to anyone else, or is comfortable with anyone else knowing.  Respect your friend right to privacy, and keep their information confidential.
  • Get support and information for yourself.  It can be really helpful for you to talk to a professional who is bound by confidentiality. This can help you know what to do, and give you a safe place to talk about your thoughts and feelings about the situation.  You are welcome talk with a CARE Advocate.

How can you get help for someone?

  • If you believe that your friend is in acute or immediate medical danger, call 911 immediately.
  • If you believe that the situation cannot wait until business hours, you can call the CARE Advocate on the Crisis Cell at 301-741-3442.
  • If you believe your friend has a substance abuse problem, seek help from UHC Substance Abuse Services at 301.314.8106.
  • If you believe your friend is self-injuring, seek help from any professional therapist at the UHC Mental Health Service at 301.314.8106.
  • If you believe your friend is considering suicide, seek help from any professional therapist at the UHC Mental Health Service at 301.314.8106.
  • If you believe your friend may have been the victim of trauma, seek help from the CARE Office