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Helping Peers

While supporting friends through their mental health challenges is crucial, it's perfectly okay if you can't solve their problems on your own. The most important thing is to connect them with appropriate resources.

5-Step Action Plan

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Look for Warning Signs

Look for changes in their thoughts, feelings, or actions. To do this, you can listen carefully to their words, pay attention to their body language, and notice if they seem to be avoiding social gatherings or places that make them anxious. Outbursts of anger can also be important to spot.

Ask How They Are

Spotting trouble? Take action. If you see signs your friend might be in crisis, reach out calmly. Ask open-ended questions like "What's going on?" or "Is there anything I can do?" Let them know you care by saying, "I'm worried about you and wanted to check in." Be respectful and supportive. Avoid arguments or lectures. If your friend gets upset, take a step back. Try talking again later, or get help from an adult. In extreme cases, if they threaten violence, call 911 and explain you believe your friend is having a mental health crisis and needs help calming down.

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Listen Up

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It's important to listen attentively rather than interrupt. Stay calm and avoid overreacting. Be patient - don't rush them, and allow for comfortable silences. Simple platitudes like "cheer up" or "don't worry" aren't helpful. Focus on listening without comparing their situation to yours. Significant differences in what they're talking about might indicate they need professional help.

Help Them Connect With an Adult

Brainstorm people who could be a responsible and trusted adult. It may be a teacher, staff member, sibling, cousin, aunt or uncle, coaches, or professional help. Remember, if your friend says to keep their crisis a secret, you should get an adult to help right away. Your friend is more important than the secret.

 

Suggest talking to a trusted adult:

  • parent

  • teacher

  • school counselor/psychologist

  • sibling

  • cousin

  • aunt/uncle

  • staff member in school

  • coach

  • or anyone else you feel like your friend feels comfortable with.

...and offer to join the conversation for support. Respect their choice, but prioritize safety by seeking help if there's a risk of harm. It's important to not try to take over or force them.

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Your Friendship is Important

At the end of the day, you are still their friend. But after you've tried to help them, keep things normal. Encourage them to be active, accept your friend as they are, and have realistic expectations. Remember, you did your best, and you're learning as well.

Tips for Empathy

01

Let Them Know They Can Talk

Ease into the conversation, gradually. It may be that the person is not in a place to talk, and that is OK. Greeting them and extending a gentle kindness can go a long way. Sometimes less is more.

03

Be a Good Listener

Be a good listener, be responsive and make eye contact with a caring approach. Give them the opportunity to talk and open up but don’t press.

Things to Avoid Saying

  • “You just need to change your attitude.”

  • “Stop harping on the negative, you should just start living.”
  • “Everyone feels that way sometimes.”

  • “You have the same illness as my (whoever).”

  • “Yes, we all feel a little crazy now and then.”

  • “Just pray about it.”

02

Be Compassionate & Active

Be respectful, compassionate and empathetic to their feelings by engaging in reflective listening, such as “I hear that you are having a bad day today. Yes, some days are certainly more challenging than others. I understand.”

04

Offer Support & Help

Offer your support and connect them to help, if the friend is religious and you feel it is appropriate, you can even ask, “Can I pray with you now?”

Things to Avoid Doing

  • Criticizing, blaming, or raising your voice at them.

  • Talking too much, too rapidly, too loudly. Silence and pauses are ok.

  • Showing any form of hostility towards them.

  • Assuming things about them or their situation.

  • Being sarcastic or making jokes about their condition.

  • Patronizing them or saying anything condescending. 

Helping a Friend in Crisis &
Adult Resources

Recognizing a Mental Health Crisis in Someone You Care About

  • Crisis = A mental health crisis is when someone is at risk of harming themselves or others, or if their emotions and behavior seem extreme and out of control. 

  • Recognizing when someone you care about is experiencing a mental health crisis can be difficult. You may not be sure what constitutes a crisis situation versus a “bad day.” You may feel scared — perhaps you feel unsure of what to do next.

Warning Signs

  • Suicidal talk

  • Threats to harm self/others

  • Self-injury

  • Agitation, aggression

  • Hallucinations, delusions

  • Isolation

What to Do/Resources

  1. Stay calm, be an ally (show empathy)

  2. If not involved already, get a trusted adult involved.​

  3. If there is immediate danger: Call 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

    • Veterans press 1

    • Spanish press 2

    • Deaf/Hard of Hearing use preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988

    • Text 988 or chat at 988Lifeline.org

  4. Other Resources

    • The Trevor Project: LGBTQ youth 13-24 (866)-488-7386 or text START to 678-678

    • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

    • Mobile Crisis Unit: Info at 211

    • Crisis Intervention Team (CIT): Ask local police department

    • Emergency Room

    • 911 (last resort, police response)

Remember: The most important thing is to stay calm and supportive. Let your peer/friend know you care and encourage them to seek help.

 A-S-K Principle
(acknowledge, support, and keep-in-touch)

Learn more about Free2Luv's ASK Principle, as a tool for helping peers.

Myths & Misconceptions

Myth #1: School Support is Costly

Reality: Your school counselors, psychologists, mental health professionals, etc., are FREE, and are there to support and help you or your friend along their mental health journey. These professionals are trained to provide a safe and confidential space to talk about what's going on.

Myth #2: I'll make things worse if I bring it up.

Reality: Talking openly can be a huge relief for someone struggling. Let them know you care and are there for them.

Myth #3: I have to fix them.

Reality: You can't "fix" someone's mental health, but you can be a source of strength and encouragement.

Myth #4: They'll just snap out of it.

Reality: Mental health struggles can be long-term. Be patient and understanding.

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