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When a friend is going through a difficult time, it can be worrying for everyone involved. You might find it hard to understand what they are going through and you might be unsure as to how you can help them. You can be there for them by listening to them, not judging them and helping them access professional support if they need it.

Ask, listen and offer your support

If you think that someone you know might be having problems, try talking directly to them about your concerns. People often want to talk but find it hard to start the conversation.

You are not expected to be an expert, have all the answers or be able to solve anyone else’s problems. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is list someone know you are there for them and simply listen.

You can help by:

  • Asking open questions about how they are feeling.
  • Talking gently about your concerns and the things you have noticed.
  • Giving them time and space to tell you about what they are going through. Don’t feel the need to fill the silence or interrupt them, just let them open up and talk at their own pace.
  • Listening carefully to their responses, without being judgmental or offering solutions.

After you hear them out, make your decision about how serious you think the problem is and whether you need to encourage him or her to get professional support.

For many people, just asking – and listening – will help. It can be a huge relief for the other person to know you are aware of the struggle they are having, you are willing to listen with an open mind, and that you are there to help if they need it.

They may feel such relief that you noticed and have taken the time to ask them about it, that the problem will simply resolve itself by talking it out with you. However, if you are still worried about them, talk to a G.P. or nurse for more advice.

When someone tells you they are having problems and you think they need professional support:

  • Suggest that they get it touch with o​n-­campus ​support services or their GP.
  • Yourmentalhealth.ie​has a county by county support service listing so that they can find the most suitable service off­-campus
  • Samaritans are also there to listen and offer round the clock support on 116 123

Ask if they’d find it helpful for you to accompany them to their appointment always taking your lead from them on what they would find most helpful.

Ask who else can help?

Encourage your friend to think of other people: family, friends, college staff or previously accessed services ­who may be able to help so that you both don’t have to deal with this alone. Reconnecting with people is an important part of a person’s recovery from mental health problems.

What if they are unwilling to consider getting help?

It is usually better that the person goes for help themselves. This can be difficult to accept when you are worried about someone. But it is important for them to acknowledge that help is necessary, and going voluntarily for help, is an important part of the process of recovery. Continue to listen to the person, let them know you are there for them, and share your concerns with them. If you are very close to the person or living with them, it is important to mind your own mental health.

If you believe the person is a danger to themselves or others

Sometimes a person will not consider getting help, but are a real danger to themselves or others. If they are having t​houghts of harming themselves: ​remove access to any means of suicide or self harm – such as medicines, a rope, etc. Stay with them while you’re making contact with the services mentioned above. Do not leave them on their own. Once you have contacted the services, go with them to their appointment.

In this situation, you can call the Gardaí on 999 to help. If a Garda has reasonable grounds for believing that a person is suffering from a mental illness and that, because of the illness, there is a serious likelihood of the person causing harm to him/herself or another person, the Garda may assist in having the person admitted to mental health services involuntarily. This is a last resort in a crisis situation.