How To Help A Friend

Hleping HandIf They are:

If They Are Suicidal:


  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

Assess Their Level of Suicide Risk

  1. Low — Some suicidal thoughts. No suicide plan. Says he or she won't commit suicide.
  2. Moderate — Suicidal thoughts. Vague plan that isn't very lethal. Says he or she won't commit suicide.
  3. High — Suicidal thoughts. Specific plan that is highly lethal. Says he or she won't commit suicide.
  4. Severe — Suicidal thoughts. Specific plan that is highly lethal. Says he or she will commit suicide.
  • Listen without judgment — Let a suicidal person express his or her feelings and accept those feelings without judging or discounting them. Don't act shocked, lecture on the value of life, or say that suicide is wrong.
  • Offer hope — Reassure the person that help is available and that the suicidal feelings are temporary. Don't dismiss the pain he or she feels, but talk about the alternatives to suicide and let the person know that his or her life is important to you.
  • Don't promise confidentiality — Refuse to be sworn to secrecy. A life is at stake and you may need to speak to a mental health professional in order to keep the suicidal person safe. If you promise to keep your discussions secret, you may have to break your word.
  • Get professional help — Do everything in your power to get a suicidal person the help he or she needs. Call a crisis line for advice and referrals. Encourage the person to see a mental health professional, help locate a treatment facility, or take them to a doctor's appointment.
  • Make a plan for life — Help the person develop a "Plan for Life," a set of steps he or she promises to follow during a suicidal crisis. It should include contact numbers for the person's doctor or therapist, as well as friends and family members who will help in an emergency.

If a suicide attempt seems imminent, call a local crisis center, dial 911, or take the person to an emergency room. Do not, under any circumstances, leave a suicidal person alone.       


If They Are Depressed:                             


 You can say:  What NOT to say:
  • You are not alone in this. I’m here for you.
  • You many not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling will change.
  • I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel but I care about you and want to help.
  • You are important to me. Your life is important to me.
  • Tell me what I can do now to help you.
  • I am here for you. We will get through this together.
  • It’s all in your head. Just snap out of it.
  • We all go through times like these. You’ll be fine.
  • Look on the bright side.
  • You have so much to live for; why do you want to die?
  • I can’t do anything about your situation.
  • What’s wrong with you? Shouldn’t you be better by now?

Adapted from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance  

Support the Treatment Process

  • Provide whatever assistance the person needs (and is willing to accept). Help him or her make and keep appointments, research treatment options, and stay on schedule with any treatment protocols.
  • Have realistic expectations. It can be frustrating to watch a depressed loved one struggle, especially if progress is slow or stalled. Having patience is important. Even with optimal treatment, recovery from depression doesn’t happen overnight.
  • Lead by example. Encourage the depressed person to lead a healthier lifestyle by doing it yourself: maintain a positive outlook, eat better, avoid alcohol and drugs, exercise, and lean on others for support.
  • Encourage activity. Invite your loved one to join you in activities that can help brighten moods, like going to a funny movie or having dinner at a favorite restaurant. Exercise is especially helpful, so try to get the depressed person out of the house for regular walks. Be gently and lovingly persistent – don’t get discouraged or stop asking.
  • Pitch in when possible. Seemingly small tasks can be hard for a depressed person to manage. Offer to help out with household responsibilities or chores – but only do what you can without getting burned out yourself!


If They Are Self-Injuring:

  • Understand that self-harming behavior is an attempt to maintain a certain amount of control which in and of itself is a way of self-soothing
  • Let the person know that you care about them and are available to listen
  • Encourage expressions of emotions including anger
  • Spend time doing enjoyable activities together
  • Offer to help them find a therapist or support group
  • Don’t make judgmental comments or tell the person to stop the self-harming behavior – people who feel worthless and powerless are even more likely to self-injure


If They Have An Eating Disorder:

Tips for Talking about an Eating Disorder

  • Communicate your concerns. Share your memories of specific times when you felt concerned about the person’s eating or exercise behaviors. Explain that you think these things may indicate that there could be a problem that needs professional attention.
  • Avoid conflicts or a battle of the wills. If the person refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem, or any reason for you to be concerned, restate your feelings and the reasons for them and leave yourself open and available as a supportive listener.
  • Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on the person regarding their actions or attitudes. Do not use accusatory “you” statements like, “You just need to eat.” Or, “You are acting irresponsibly.” Instead, use “I” statements. For example: “I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch.” Or, “It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting.”
  • Avoid giving simple solutions. For example, "If you'd just stop, then everything would be fine!"

Source: Adapted from National Eating Disorders Association  

Finding an eating disorder specialist

Aside from offering support, the most important thing you can do for a person with an eating disorder is to encourage treatment. The longer an eating disorder remains undiagnosed and untreated, the harder it is on the body and the more difficult to overcome, so urge your loved one to see a doctor right away.

For treatment advice or referrals, click here or call the National Eating Disorders Association’s 24-hour information and referral helpline at 1-800-931-2237.


If They Are Grieving:

What to say to someone who has lost a loved one

It is common to feel awkward when trying to comfort someone who is grieving. Many people do not know what to say or do. The following are suggestions to use as a guide.

  • Acknowledge the situation. Example: "I heard that your_____ died." Use the word "died" That will show that you are more open to talk about how the person really feels.
  • Express your concern. Example: "I'm sorry to hear that this happened to you."
  • Be genuine in your communication and don't hide your feelings. Example: "I’m not sure what to say, but I want you to know I care."
  • Offer your support. Example: "Tell me what I can do for you."
  • Ask how he or she feels, and don't assume you know how the bereaved person feels on any given day.

SourceAmerican Cancer Society  

Tips for Helping a Grieving Person

  1. Listen with compassion
  2. Offer practical assistance like taking them to lunch or helping with daily chores
  3. Provide ongoing support
  4. Watch out for warning signs of depression


If They Are Abusing Alcohol:

Caring for a Drunk Person


 What to do:   What NOT to do: 
  • Stay calm and be aware of your own fear in dealing with a drunk person.
  • If possible, assess the situation. Is the person in a life-threatening health crisis? If so, get help.
  • Keep your distance. Before approaching or touching, explain what you intend to do.
  • Speak in a clear, firm, reassuring manner. Keep the person comfortable.
  • Stay with the drunk person who is vomiting. When laying the person down, make sure the individual is lying on his/her side, not his/her back.
  • If you put a person to bed, monitor the individual's breathing.
  • Where possible, keep the room quiet and softly lit.
  • Utilize the support of others; enlist involvement of friends.
  • Don't let your anxiety transfer to the individual in trouble.
  • Don’t be intimidated by the person's behavior.
  • Don't give the person coffee, tea, or other liquid stimulants to sober the person.
  • The only thing that will sober a drunk person is time.
  • Don't give the person a cold shower.
  • The shock may cause the person to pass out, causing injury.
  • Don’t try to walk, run or exercise the drunk person.
  • Don't keep the person awake. Don't attempt to constrain the person.
  • Don't induce vomiting. 
  • Don't laugh, ridicule, provoke, anger or threaten the individual.



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