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We all fall on hard times. Part of life is learning to deal with difficult situations and learning from our struggles. Sometimes, we can see changes in our friends that may indicate that they need support. While we are there for them during their challenges, sometimes we are only able to offer support, but not the kind of help they need. When our friends are struggling with addictions, trauma, or mental illness, we may feel confused about how to support them or how to encourage them to get professional help.
Recognizing the Signs of Trouble
While all of us go through rough patches or times when we do not feel like ourselves, sometimes, these rough patches do not seem to go away. In many cases, we have clear reasons for feeling down and experience these emotions temporarily.
An example would be losing a loved one and going through the grieving process. However, if you begin to notice a change in a friend that seems ongoing for no readily apparent reason, they could be struggling on the inside and might not even realize the change themselves! Some things to look out for include:
- Engaging in self-harm: Do you notice that your friend has scars that are self-inflicted? Do they have burn marks that indicate they are harming themselves? Self-harm is one way that people in distress may use to manage their emotional pain. Self-harm is a negative coping strategy that does not aid in recovery and usually leads to greater physical and psychological damage.
- Talking often about suicide or threatening to kill themselves: Suicidal thoughts or feelings should always be taken seriously! When people talk about suicide, they are indicating that something is wrong and they are beginning to lose hope.
- Withdrawing from social activities: Do you see your friend less often than usual? Are they withdrawn and unusually quiet during social activities? They could be struggling with their mental health and shutting themselves in. They may even feel ashamed of how they feel and do not want to burden others. Typically, withdrawing and losing interest in social activities could be a sign of psychological distress.
- Taking extreme risks and engaging in risky behaviors: If you notice your friend appears somewhat self-destructive, this could be a sign that something is wrong. They may appear to have a lack of concern for their own safety or health. When people lose a sense of hope, they may become more reckless due to increased feelings of worthlessness.
- Increased use of substances and alcohol: Does your friend seem to be spending more time at the bar than usual? Are they drinking more than usual or appearing inebriated when you see them? An increase in substance use and alcohol abuse are similar to taking risky behaviors. This could be a warning sign that things are not going well.
- Sudden mood swings: Is your friend lashing out at you for no reason? Are they bursting into tears out of nowhere, then brushing this off like it is no big deal? Sudden and severe mood swings can indicate that something is wrong.
- Appearing “on-edge” and “jumpy”: If your friend seems to be jumping from one topic to the next in conversation or cannot seem to sit still or concentrate, then something could be wrong. When in psychological distress from trauma, a person may act as if there are threats nearby. These feelings can make a person appear “jumpy” and unable to concentrate.
What should you do if you see signs like this?
One of the most important things that you can do for a friend in need of help is to express your concerns to them. Let them know you care about them and that you have noticed a change. When people are in distress, they may get defensive easily.
Express your concerns from your point of view to avoid a potential confrontation. For example, “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been around much lately, is everything going okay?” or “When I hear you talking like this, I feel concerned. Do you need help?”
The best thing that you can to help someone in need is offer your support and listen to them. You can offer to go with them to support groups or to find programs that could best help them. If your friend is in a recovery program, let them know that you are available to be in their support network.
Ask them how you can best help them with their recovery. Being open to listening and being nonjudgmental will help them more than pushing them to get better. If your friend is not ready for help yet, let them know that you will be there for them either way.
Sometimes, we recognize that a friend, co-worker, or family member needs help. They appear to be struggling with something that we are unable to help them with. While we can support our friends and be there for them, they may need the help of a professional in some cases. They may need to heal in a safe and supportive environment with professional guidance that we cannot provide for them. One thing you can do for a friend in need is to learn about some of the treatment options available to help them. When they are ready to seek help, you can research programs with them or provide some suggestions. The Kimberly Center is a unique program that offers short-term stays to those struggling with trauma and addiction. Give us a call today at (855) 452-3683 for more information on how to help the people that you care about!