Helping a friend in a crisis
- Helpful things to do
- Unhelpful things, best avoided
- Sources of help for yourself and your friend
Select any section that interests you or else read on through the page.
We come up against all sorts of difficulties in our lives and sometimes these difficulties, for whatever reason, are just too much. In this case our usual coping strategies are overwhelmed. We cannot cope with the things we usually cope with, let alone the difficulties that triggered the crisis.
In this situation people go to pieces in different ways. Some will withdraw or become helpless, some will become angry, aggressive or tearful, some will try to flee or deny that anything is wrong, some will self harm or abuse drugs or alcohol. Sometimes the stress and sense of urgency that people feel can make the difficulties seem worse.
If you know someone going through anything like this, you will know that a crisis has powerful effects on everyone around. It is common, as a friend, to want to help, but at the same time either to have strong feelings about the situation and about what should be done, or to feel helpless and feel that you have no idea how to help.
Listen and show that you understand your friend’s predicament.
Keep calm. Remember that urgency is infectious and you are probably picking it up from your friend. It is not your urgency and you do not need to let it become so.
It may be helpful to speak of your own experiences of similar difficulties. However, remember that your feelings in the face of such difficulties may differ from your friend’s.
Decide, in your own mind, how much you are able to give to this particular friend in this particular situation. Be ruthlessly honest with yourself on this.
Once you have decided, think through the kind of things you will need to say and do in order to show your boundaries clearly. This will reassure your friend that he or she is not overburdening you.
Remember that you are not obliged to care. The choice is yours. Do not feign affection as this leads to worse difficulties.
Look after yourself. This means giving time to your own needs. Supporting others is stressful and you will need to get away to recharge your batteries.
Don’t forget your other friends and make sure you use them for support. Keep up with your studies
Accept the fact that you will have mixed feelings about the situation and about your friend. This is human and you can expect it. It is common to feel frustration and anger as well as sympathy.
If your friend wants to see a professional then you could gather information on suitable helping services (see below).
Keep checking with your friend what they think would be helpful. You want to encourage your friend to keep as much control of their life as possible, so decide things together rather than taking responsibility away from them.
Involve others so that your friend has a support team rather than just you. This is a much easier situation to handle.
You could ask for professional support yourself. Counselling is available for these situations.
Giving loads of advice
Telling the person what to do
Taking on too much
If you don’t define and stick to your boundaries you can find the strength of your friend’s need has taken over your life and you end up in emotional overdraft or feeling resentful.
In the end it doesn’t help your friend and it certainly doesn’t help you. Sometimes the helper will end up in a worse mess than the person they started out to help and the friendship never recovers.
Check with your friend before you speak to other people about their situation.
However, if you become worried about your friend’s safety, or the safety of others, then it would be best to contact local helping agencies, even if you do not have permission to do so (see below, ‘People to Contact in an Emergency’).
If your friend is a student at The University of Bath encourage him or her to contact Student Health & Well-Being and make an appointment to see a counsellor. If your friend is a student at another college / university, contact the appropriate counselling service.
If your friend is not a student, he or she can contact the Samaritans (08457 909090).
People to contact in an emergency
- Call your friend’s doctor
- Call the Police and/or Ambulance – dial 999
- Go to Accident and Emergency at the Royal United Hospital(RUH)
Also (where appropriate)
Don’t hesitate to use them