Helping a friend in distress

We all have experienced stress at some point in our lives.  Stress can be positive (buying a house, going to college, etc) or negative (an illness, losing a job, etc).  Whether positive or negative, stress is stress.  Sometimes, stressors can become overwhelming that a person might not know how to respond.  They may start showing signs that can be worrisome or like they are not acting like themselves.  Has this ever happened to you or maybe to somebody you care for?

Excess of stress can manifest in a person in several ways such as:

  • Irritability, intense sadness, extreme anxiety or worry, crying spells, angry outbursts
  • Restless, hyperactivity or pressured speech 
  • Self-injury (cutting, scratching)
  • Sleeping problems or changes in eating habits 
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed before, social withdrawal

How to help if you are concerned about somebody or if they come to you for support:

  • Reach out to them and talk to them in private in a nonjudgmental and supportive way.  
  • Let them know you have noticed some changes in them (describe behaviors you’ve seen) that make you feel worried.  Offer an open ear and listen.  Let them do the talking.  
  • Based on what you hear you can provide support by acknowledging what they have shared ‘it sounds like you have a lot going on.’ 
  • Don’t offer advice right away let them finish if they share how they are feeling.  If they don’t just let them know you are there for them whenever they are ready to speak.  Don’t pressure them to share if they say no.  
  • Talk to them about seeking professional help.  Let them know of crisis hotline numbers in your area.  Offer your assistance in making phone calls or looking for counselors. 
  • Offer to check-in with them about how they are doing. 

Crisis situations can range from mild to life threatening. Somebody in a crisis emotional state might show signs of the following:

  • Extreme agitation or panic 
  • Inability to communicate
  • Verbal or physical threats or violent acts
  • Self-injury (cutting, scratching, pulling hair, picking nails, burning)
  • Threats of suicide 
  • Disorientation and confusion

What to do:

  • If you are worried about your own safety or the safety of others, don’t take it upon yourself to solve things on your own. Seek professional help immediately and let them handle the situation.
  • Call 911 immediately or take them to the nearest emergency room if possible.  You can also call the National Crisis Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
  • Your safety is just as important as that of the person in distress.  Think of your limits and what you can handle.  
  • Helping somebody can be stressful especially if you don’t know what to do or they don’t want help.  Seek professional help for yourself to talk through this experience and get the support that you need.