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Supporting a Friend


It is natural to want to support someone who is in distress. It may be useful to define what is causing you concern:

  • Have they talked about problems?
  • Have they changed recently?
  • Are others concerned also?

People in distress may appreciate support or may deny they need any help. Telling someone that you are concerned about them and being specific about your concerns may be a useful first step. Some find it easy and helpful to talk about problems, some may not want to ‘open up’; it is important to respect privacy but be prepared to listen, without offering advice or finding a ‘solution’. Many people know what they 'ought' to do or not do (although sometimes clear thinking gets obscured when in distress) so just having a non-judgemental supportive listening ear can be very helpful.

However, it is important to look out for yourself when involved in supporting someone else. Make sure you think carefully about how much you can hear without getting overwhelmed; consider how much time you are able and prepared to give to the support, without it becoming burdensome for you - it isn't helpful for someone in distress to feel they are overwhelming their friends/supporters.

It is helpful to set workable boundaries - perhaps suggest you can talk for a certain time (eg 20 minutes); suggest checking in again at a certain time, and schedule it in on a specific time/date.

Looking after your own mental well-being is essential – consider and set clear limits on how much time and energy you can give - being clear yet brief with your amount of support is better than giving lots then feeling overwhelmed and having to find ways to carefully and sensitively pull back from the level of giving. You can also get support for yourself about your friend’s problem without mentioning their name - contact someone you can trust to talk it all through with. Do actively seek out support for yourself too if you feel it could be helpful - sometimes when we help and support others, it can restimulate difficulties of our own, so take extra care to look after yourself when you're involved in supporting others, consider professional counselling services for you too.

If you are seriously worried and need to alert someone else, try to get your friend’s consent, but in certain situations it is better to break confidentiality to ensure the best help can be sought for your friend (see below). Remind your friend of the resources available, for example the University Counselling Service.

In a Crisis

If you are concerned about the risk to your friend’s personal safety, or that of others, you may need to act without their consent. In a crisis situation, ensuring your own safety and that of others is paramount. It is important to remain calm and to adopt a non-threatening approach, explaining in a straightforward way what you are doing. You may need to contact the emergency services (999) or, on campus, Security staff can assist. After a crisis, ensure you get support for yourself by talking the situation through. You may want to access the University Counselling Service.


Security on campus – 22083

Samaritans 116 123

Nightline: 024 7641 7668, or Internal ext 22199. 9pm – 9am. Term-time

Saneline: 0845 767 8000,

University Counselling Service:

You may wish to contact Wellbeing Support Services to access further support for you or your friend

Comic story on support for those feeling suicidal:

Information about supporting a friend who has experienced a bereavement:

A series of Samaritan's Guides on how to support a friend:

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