How Can I provide Support?

Support Yourself

We all try to support our friends, but what if you are the one suffering from a mental illness or struggling with a substance use problem? If this is the case, it is important that you support yourself and take steps to get the care that you deserve. Here are some tips on how to support yourself:

  • Give Yourself a Break

    Often we're our toughest critics. If you're struggling, give yourself a break! You can’t always be in control and mental illnesses are often times chronic. This doesn’t mean that things will always be really bad for you, but it does mean it is very likely that you will struggle with it from time to time throughout your life. Learning to live with a mental illness is more about learning ways to manage your symptoms, and learning your limits. So try not to be so hard on yourself: if you need time, take it.

  • Find What Works

    Learning how to manage a mental illness can be tough, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Finding the right treatment program can be challenging and at times discouraging, and just because something works once does not mean it will work every time. It can be very frustrating but don’t give up! A big part of this journey is educating yourself and identifying the tools you will need to find a strategy that works for you.

  • Don't Do It Alone: Find Support

    There are many people out there who want to help you. You don’t need to do this alone! Reaching out to friends or family can be an important first step to your recovery. Not everyone has a strong support system around them, and if you don’t it’s OK- reach out to one of the many resources and support systems that are available in the community. There you will find many people who can support you emotionally and help you get connected to the right resources.

  • Accept Yourself

    Sometimes it is hard to admit that you are struggling with a mental health or substance use problem. Accepting yourself and accepting your limits as an individual is an important part of beginning your recovery. Mental illnesses are legitimate illnesses — you don’t need to feel ashamed or apologise. Remember — not only do you need to accept yourself, you also deserve acceptance, support and understanding from others in your life like your profs and peers. Accepting yourself is just as important!

  • Take Care of Yourself

    Taking care of your physical and mental health is very important. When you are suffering from a mental illness or substance use problem it can be easy to lose sight of that. Try to set aside time to spend on activities that you enjoy- like hanging out with friends, art projects, or pleasurable physical activities. Spending time doing things that relieve stress won’t make all of your problems go away, but it can help you deal with them.

Never Keep Thoughts of Suicide a Secret

If you're considering suicide or self-harm DO NOT keep it a secret!

All thoughts of suicide and self-harm must be taken seriously. If you are considering suicide or harming yourself or others, please contact one of these emergency resources immediately.

Support Your Friends

Friends are often the first, and sometimes the only ones to notice when someone needs help. It is important to provide your support, but remember: as a friend, you’re not responsible for fixing the problem. Think of it this way: if you discovered that your friend had a broken arm, you couldn’t fix it yourself, but you probably wouldn’t ignore it! Below are some ways that you can support a friend that might be having a hard time with mental health or substance use.

Helping a Friend with a Mental Health Problem

If you think your friend may be experiencing a mental health or substance use problem, here are some of the ways that you can help them:

  • Reach Out

    Sometimes it is hard to start the conversation. It is important to choose the right time and place, so that you can express yourself clearly without seeming intimidating. Here are some tips:

    Finding the Right Time

    You might have shared initial concerns with others in your friend group, but it might be intimidating if you approach your friend as a group. It might be easier to have a conversation when it is just the two of you.

    Have enough time to chat: If your friend decides to share their problems with you, having only a short amount of time to talk can put more pressure on the conversation. If you have to leave halfway through they may feel hurt or interpret your leaving in the wrong way.

    Finding the Right Place

    Start the conversation during a relaxing activity: Sometimes it’s easier to talk openly when the focus isn’t just on the conversation you’re having. Suggest going for a walk together, or initiate the conversation by inviting your friend for coffee or tea.

    Choose somewhere quiet without interruptions: Find a relaxed, private and safe environment. Perhaps somewhere familiar, such as your bedroom- anywhere you feel able to talk freely.

  • Start the Conversation

    Don’t worry about not understanding everything that your friend is going through, or not knowing exactly the right thing to say. Remember that the conversation is not about giving advice; rather, you are giving your friend the opportunity to talk.

    Ask open questions such as "what can I do to support you with that?" Framing questions like this gives the conversation more depth and makes your friend more likely to open up to you.

    Tell them you are concerned and let them know you are there for them. Be straightforward and non-judgmental. Be honest and specific about why you are worried.

    What Helps:
    "I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help. I am worried about you. You don’t seem like yourself lately. I have noticed you seem really stressed and have been sleeping a lot. Is there anything you want to talk about?"

    This is helpful because you are letting them know you have noticed that they are struggling, their feelings matter, they are real, and they don’t have to handle it alone.

    What Hurts:
    "We all go through times like this."

    This isn’t helpful because it downplays the seriousness of how they are feeling and makes them feel like they are unable to handle something others handle with ease.

  • Listen

    Sometimes the best thing you can do to help your friend is to listen to them and let them express how they feel. Resist the temptation to give advice or dismiss their concerns.

    Practice reflective listening: Intently listen to what your friend is saying and repeat what they expressed back to them. This can be helpful because it shows that you’ve really heard what your friend is saying and it also helps you clarify that you are accurately understanding their situation. Use phrases such as: "It seems to me that you’re saying / might be feeling..."

    What Helps:
    "You are important to me. I’m here for you, you can always talk to me."

    This is helpful because it reminds them that they have support and can express their feelings when they need someone to talk to.

    What Hurts:
    "You'll be fine. Stop worrying."

    This is hurtful because you are dismissing their feelings when they need your support. Suggesting that they have control over their feelings can make them feel as though they are to blame and they may choose not to confide in you in the future.

  • Talk to Your Friend About Seeking Help

    It is important that you support your friend, but they may benefit from talking to someone else, like a doctor or counsellor, who is better able to tell if they have a serious problem that needs treatment. Offer to help them find resources, help them schedule the first appointment, or even go with them to get help.

    Be prepared for all possible reactions: Your friend may not react to your concern in a positive way. They may deny the possibility that they might have a problem, become defensive, or they may not be ready to seek help. Don’t take a negative reaction personally. Don’t be pushy; be patient and let your friend know that you will be available for them if they decide to get help.

    If your friend is unwilling to get help and you are still concerned and unsure what to do, you can contact a resource to get advice from a professional about what to do or how you can help.

    What Helps:
    "I've heard that it can really helpful to talk to someone. Have you thought about going to talk with someone about what's bothering you? I'm happy to go with you."

    This is helpful because it’s not always easy to take the first step toward getting help.

    What Hurts:
    "I’m not sure what you should do, but I’m sure it will get better if you just wait it out."

    This is hurtful because it comes off as unsupportive and if they wait their symptoms may get worse

  • Don't Get Caught Up

    Supporting a friend isn’t just about sharing worries and concerns – it’s also about keeping up with the things you enjoy and spending time together as friends. Meet up for lunch, cook together, go for a walk where you can talk, invite them for a Netflix night to get their mind off things while still being social.

    Remember that even if your friend seems hesitant about joining in with social situations, it’s important to keep inviting them along so that they continue to feel included in your friendship group.

    Stay in touch with your friend over breaks and holidays: give them a call or send them an email or text to say hi and check in on them.

    Take care of yourself: Some people get so caught up in worrying about their friend’s mental health that they forget to take care of their own health. Make sure to take time out for yourself to do something you find relaxing. If you are feeling overwhelmed, there are many resources on campus for you to access advice and support.

Never Keep Talk of Suicide a Secret

If your friend discloses that they are considering suicide or self-harm DO NOT keep it a secret!

All talk of suicide and self-harm must be taken seriously. If you suspect your friend is considering suicide or harming themselves or others, please contact one of these emergency resources immediately.

Helping a Friend with a Substance Use Problem

If you think your friend may be struggling with their drinking or other substance use, here are some of the ways that you can help them:

  • Reach Out

    Sometimes it’s hard to start the conversation. It is important to choose the right time and place, so that you can express yourself clearly without seeming intimidating or judgmental. If you are worried that your friends drinking or drug use may be a problem, here are some tips about how to reach out to them:

    Finding the Right Time

    Time your message carefully. Talk to your friend shortly after they've experienced a problem with drinking or drug use, maybe when they’re hungover or dealing with embarrassment of making bad choices the night before. That way they will be in the right mindset to reflect on how their drinking is causing them problems.

    Avoid talking to your friend while they're intoxicated. Wait until the following day when the person is clear-headed and when the problems that came from their use are still fresh in their mind. This way you have a better chance of getting your message across.

    Finding the Right Place

    Start the conversation during a relaxing activity. Sometimes it’s easier to talk when doing other things. Go for a walk, or invite your friend for coffee or tea. Avoid situations that involve drinking as it could send a mixed message.

    Choose somewhere quiet without interruptions. Find a relaxed and private place to talk. Maybe somewhere familiar, such as your bedroom- anywhere you feel able to talk freely.

  • Start the Conversation

    Focus on consequences. It's usually best to talk to people about how their drinking or drug use is actually hurting them. Focus on the consequences like hangovers, missing classes and how their use is actually ruining their social life. Be specific. Say things like, "Last night when you were drunk, you made fun of me and were being really mean.", or "last night at the party I was left standing there while you threw up. The next day you were too hung over to write your paper."

    Avoid lecturing. Some people assume that confrontation is the only way to convince a friend to get help, but this strategy often backfires. Instead, be compassionate. Show them you care about them and are concerned. Use nonjudgmental language and don't blame or criticize them. Don't be pushy or demand that they seek help, just tell them you are worried and encourage them to think about seeking help.

    What Helps:
    "I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help. I am worried about you. Your drinking seems to be getting you into trouble. Is there anything you want to talk about?"

    This is helpful because you are letting them know that you have noticed that their drinking is out of control, and they don’t have handle it alone.

    What Hurts:
    "Why don’t you just stop drinking so much?"

    This isn’t helpful because it downplays the seriousness of how they are feeling and makes them feel like their loss of control over their drinking is a choice they made.

  • Listen

    Sometimes the best thing you can do to help your friend is to listen to them and let them express how they feel. Resist the temptation to give advice or dismiss their concerns.

    Practice reflective listening: Intently listen to what your friend is saying and repeat what they expressed back to them. This can be helpful because it shows that you’ve really heard what your friend is saying. Use phrases such as: “It seems to me that you’re saying / might be feeling...”

    What Helps:
    "You are important to me. I’m here for you, you can always talk to me."

    This is helpful because it reminds them that they have support and can express their feelings when they need someone to talk to

    What Hurts:
    "You’ll be fine. Let's go grab a drink and shake it off, just don’t drink too much this time."

    This is hurtful because you are dismissing their feelings when they need your support. Suggesting that they have control over their drinking can make them feel as though they are to blame and drinking with them sends them a mixed message.

  • Talk to Your Friend About Seeking Help

    It is important that you support your friend, but they may benefit from talking to someone else, like a doctor or counsellor, who is better able to tell if they have a serious problem that needs treatment. Offer to help them find resources, help them schedule the first appointment, or even go with them to get help.

    Be prepared for all possible reactions: Once you’ve started the conversation your friend could take in in a bunch of different ways. They could respond defensively. Maybe they will tell you to mind your own business or remind you of times when you drank too much. They might give you excuses, try to change the subject, or even deny having a problem. They might agree that they may have a problem and need help.

    Whatever they do, don't take it personally; these are common reactions. If this talk has no effect on your friend’s drinking or drug use, you should still tell them how their substance use is affecting you. Tell them how hard it is for you to enjoy going out together to a party because you are afraid they will get sick, pass out or embarrass you. If they don’t change right away that is normal. If they continue drinking they might take your message to heart later on. The important thing is that you planted the seed for them to start thinking about the issue.

    If your friend is unwilling to get help and you are still concerned and unsure what to do, you can contact a resource to get advice from a professional about what to do or how you can help.

    What Helps:
    "I have heard that it can really helpful to get someone else’s opinion. Have you thought about going to talk with someone about your drinking? I am happy to go with you."

    This is helpful because it’s not always easy to take the first step toward getting help.

    What Hurts:
    "I’m not sure what you should do, but you drink way too much and I’m sick of it"

    This is hurtful because it comes across as unsupportive

  • Don't Get Caught Up

    Supporting a friend isn’t just about sharing worries and concerns – it’s also about keeping up with the things you enjoy and spending time together as friends. Meet up for lunch, cook together, go for a walk where you can talk, invite them for a Netflix night. Offer to do things with them that don’t involve drinking.

    Take care of yourself. It’s easy to get caught up worrying about your friend’s problems, while forgetting to take care of your own health. Make sure to take time out for yourself to do something you find relaxing. If you are feeling overwhelmed, there are many resources on campus for you to access advice and support.

Never Keep Talk of Suicide a Secret

Does your friend ever mention suicide or self-harm when they are using substances?

If your friend discloses that they are considering suicide or self-harm DO NOT keep it a secret!

All talk of suicide and self-harm must be taken seriously. If you suspect your friend is considering suicide or harming themselves or others, please contact one of these emergency resources immediately.