Helping a friend

  • You may notice that your friend isn't coping well, and wonder what you can do. You want to help, but don’t know how to. We offer some suggestions here.


    • ignore your worry
    • think they will get better soon
    • think someone else will help
    • worry that you are interfering
    • think their problem is not serious
    • tell them “don't worry,” “snap out of it,” “you shouldn't feel like that,” or tell them what to do
    • take on too much yourself by giving them too much of your time
    • feel you are the only person who can help them


    • take their situation and your concern seriously
    • tell your friend that you are worried about them and would like to help
    • listen patiently – this is often more helpful than you may realise
    • ask your friend what would help (perhaps they would like you to ask how they are occasionally, give them time to talk, go out together) – together you can decide what to do
    • be realistic and open about what you can offer – it helps no-one if you stay with them every night but are clearly thinking about your own assignment
    • encourage them to ask for help if they have a practical problem, for example with their course or with finances

    For help with their studies, your friend could talk to their lecturer, Student Support Co-ordinator or Upgrade. For financial advice, they could contact the Brookes Union Advice Service or Financial Support.

    If you are seriously worried about someone's low or depressed mood, then take some action. Tell the hall warden or a Student Support Co-ordinator.

    Suggestions for specific problems

    Click on the links to go straight to our suggestions:

    • Depression
      What you might notice: Your friend may seem low, or they may hide their mood. They may spend a lot of time alone or be quieter than usual. You might notice that they are missing lectures. They might be losing or gaining weight.
    • Anxiety
      What you might notice: Your friend may seem stressed, or worried over trivial things (as well as major problems). They might be losing or gaining weight. They may be sleeping badly.

    • Alcohol or illegal drugs 
      What you might notice: Your friend may be obviously consuming worrying amount of alcohol or drugs. They may have severe money problems. They may be neglecting study and/or social life.


    If your friend seems unhappy, sad or depressed: some suggestions

    • Spend some time with them – they may be feeling very lonely and alone.
    • Invite them to join in when a group of friends are going out – they may be feeling unwanted.
    • Suggest that you could do something together, like a walk, gentle exercise, go for coffee, or watch a DVD.
    • Make sure they have eaten something nutritious recently.
    • Make time for them to talk about difficult feelings (remember to be realistic about what you can offer). But do respect their need to feel cheerful, so also allow your friend to talk about something good. And don't push them if they just want to be quiet. It may help if you sometimes simply ask your friend how they are feeling.
    • If they are feeling very negative or hopeless, show that you understand that this is how they feel right now, and don't try and “make them better.” However, it may also help to remind them of some of the things they have achieved and times when they feel better.
    • Show them the Counselling website, which offers information on depression and suggestions on how to manage. There is an online leaflet on depression, information on self-help books, and links to self-help websites. Your friend can buy a short, inexpensive booklet from our receptionist. Other resources you can show your friend are the national support organisation Students Against Depression, and information on local groups for depression run by the organisation, Mind.
    • If appropriate, recommend they make an appointment with their doctor or at the Medical Centre, and / or an appointment with the Brookes Counselling Service.
    • Give them the telephone number for Samaritans – 08457 90 90 90 – a confidential helpline for people who are lonely or unhappy.


    If your friend seems anxious: some suggestions

    • Invite your friend to talk about their worries, and support them if they need to cry.
    • Suggest some relaxing activities – listening to music, going for a walk, taking a warm bath, practical activities (like cleaning or washing, or gentle exercise). These activities can help your friend stop thinking about their worries over and over again.
    • If they are feeling panicky, ask your friend to take deep breaths, breathing more slowly, and breathing out through the mouth.
    • Help them remember their achievements and their strengths to challenge the sense of “everything is hopeless” or “I can’t cope”.
    • If your friend is going over and over the same thing, invite them to talk with you to decide how to cope with the problem. Don't tell your friend what to do, even if their solution seems the wrong one to you. Help them remember that no answer needs to be perfect. If your friend can't make any decisions, you can suggest stopping thinking for now, and doing something relaxing instead.
    • Recommend the Brookes Counselling website where they can find relaxation exercises, online leaflets about exam and presentation anxiety and about managing stress, information on self-help books, and links to self-help websites. Your friend can buy a booklet or relaxation CD from our receptionist.

    Alcohol or drugs

    Your friend is taking too much alcohol or drugs: some suggestions

    • Be clear that you are worried about their use of alcohol or drugs.
    • Be serious about your concern, don't make it a joke.
    • Invite your friend to tell you if they have some worries they are trying to avoid.
    • Suggest going to activities where alcohol and drugs are not the main focus, like the cinema or theatre, out for a walk, or a cafe.
    • Limit your own intake of alcohol and drugs, so your friend does not need to “keep up,” and suggest that you both have soft drinks some of the time.
    • Don't buy your friend drink or drugs when you think they have had enough.
    • Recommend the Brookes Counselling website where they can find information and links to self-help books and self-help websites on alcohol and drugs.
    • Recommend that your friend talks to SMART, which is a free, confidential service for anyone worried about their alcohol or drug use. They have a telephone helpline – 01865 251015. If it seems appropriate, you can recommend that your friend makes an appointment with the Counselling Service or with their doctor.