Urgent Support

Wondering how to support a friend in distress?

Satish had noticed that Rahim didn’t seem like himself these days. He had been missing out on a lot more classes. Whenever they did meet, he seemed very irritated and it was difficult to have a smooth conversation with him. He had also noticed that he had been drinking a lot more. He was concerned for his friend but wasn’t sure what to do. Satish was worried that if he asked him directly about it, he might get annoyed and stop talking to him.

Initiation

As students living together, you are bound to have the most interactions with your classmates across different situations and know them well. This also means that you’re most likely to notice if someone is going through some difficulties and if there have been any changes in their behaviour. Sometimes, you may be unsure about whether they are simply upset and will cope with it on their own or if they have been feeling distressed for a while and need help to feel better.

The best way, in either case, is to simply have a conversation and get more information about what they are experiencing. Remember, it is always okay to check if you sense someone is in distress. This is especially important if you know they’ve experienced something significant lately (any loss, difficulty in academics, major life transitions/changes).

Coping mechanisms

How can I prepare for a conversation
  • It can help to tell them in advance that you would like to talk to them about something important. This will help you both be prepared and more receptive.
  • Choose a private space with fewer distractions where you can easily have a one-to-one conversation. This will help them be comfortable and more likely to open up.
  • Ensure you have enough time to have the conversation. If you have something you need to do or somewhere you need to be, you might feel impatient/in a hurry and not be able to be fully present. Ensure the same for them too.
  • If sitting and talking feel too awkward, you could suggest engaging in some activity together (going for a walk, playing an indoor game).
  • You could also jot down things you would like to say before the conversation to help you feel more confident.
How to actually have the conversation?
  • Ask them how they're doing. This can give them an opportunity to talk about anything that may be bothering them.
  • While it's great to ease into the conversation, don’t beat around the bush for too long.
  • Be clear and express your concern. Tell them you've noticed that they haven't been themselves lately and that you're worried about them. Ask them if there's something that's bothering them. (I am really concerned...I have noticed...)
  • Listen to them well without judgment. Sometimes all you need to do to help an individual feel better is to be fully present and provide a space where they can talk. Listen to what they're saying without interrupting them.
  • Assure them that you won't share with others what they share with you
  • Convey what you think they must be going through (that must have been so difficult for you)
  • Repeat to them what you've understood. This will help them know that you're genuinely interested and they're being understood (so from what you've said, I understand that...)
  • To encourage them to share more and keep the conversation going, use more open-ended questions (those that elicit elaborate answers and not simply a yes/no or one-word answer)
  • Ask them what would help them feel better or deal with any concerns they may be facing. If there are any practical ways in which you can help, offer the same.
  • Don't hesitate in suggesting professional help. Emphasize that help is available and effective. Tell them that there is no shame in getting support and provide details of services available on campus
  • Offer to accompany them to the centre, get numbers or anything else that can be useful.
  • Before ending the conversation, check-in with them about how they’re feeling.

If your friend says, they are not comfortable discussing what they’re going through, respect their space. Tell them that you’re available if at any point they feel like they are ready and need someone to listen to them ("Whenever you're ready, know that I'm here').

After the conversation
  • Continue to check-in on them to ensure they’re feeling okay.
  • Follow through with the ways you said you would help.
  • Continue making plans with them, spending time, and showing care.

Seek help

Don't keep the stress to yourself!
  • If your friend has a mentor, a good idea would be to suggest that they bring the mentor into the picture. In the case of academic concerns, encourage them to meet their Faculty advisor or any other faculty they feel comfortable approaching.
  • If your friend has physical symptoms, (e.g. not eating properly, not able to sleep, weakness, lethargy) offer to accompany them to IIT Hospital to meet a physician.
  • If this is bringing up a lot of emotions for your friend or even for you, feel free to talk to reach out to a counsellor at the Student Wellness Centre.