The past year has presented forms and levels of adversity that many of us may have not experienced before. Perhaps you have noticed that some friends or loved ones have been struggling or don’t seem like themselves.  

Have you recently checked in on a friend who hasn’t been feeling like themselves lately? We’ve had a tough year and we’ve all had different experiences and reactions, so while we may be feeling one way about this past year’s events, our friend may be feeling entirely different. It’s important to check in on each other. Here are some ways you can be there for a friend who is having a tough time with their mental health.  

  1. Educate yourself on signs and symptoms of mental health concerns 

College presents so many demands that it can be easy to miss out on signs or symptoms that your friends may be having a hard time. Educating yourself on common signs and symptoms of mental health concerns, like; 

  • becoming socially withdrawn  
  • sleeping too little or too much  
  • experiencing academic troubles  

can help identify whether a friend may be having a hard time.  

Additional signs may include; 

  • noticing that friends have lost interest in things that they used to enjoy  
  • started using drugs or alcohol excessively 
  • seem extremely stressed  
  • have been experiencing negative thoughts about themself.   
  1. Don’t be afraid to communicate, but clarify your role 

Discussing topics related to mental health can be taboo or uncomfortable. It’s not always easy knowing what to say, or it’s scary if we say the wrong thing. The stigma surrounding mental health can often prevent folks from initiating conversations or checking in with their peers.  

If your friend seems like they are losing motivation, exhibiting new or concerning behaviors, or experiencing dramatic mood changes, it’s important to kindly and openly check in. Consider an intentional phone call, or if possible, meet in person to connect over coffee or a meal. This may be as simple as “Hey, how have you been feeling lately?” or more specific “Hey, you haven’t seemed like yourself lately, is everything okay?” 

When checking-in with a friend it is also important to clarify your role. Despite our best intentions, no individual is responsible for “fixing,” curing, or ensuring that a friend overcomes mental health struggles. 

Support can come in a variety of forms that does not blur the lines between friend and licensed mental health professional. Asking how your friend is doing is just one way to show you care that could lead to asking if they are open to your support, and/or what forms of support might be most helpful. You can learn how to check in on your friends via USF’s Mental Health First Aid or Campus Connect trainings.  

  1. Avoid assumptions and judgement 

Few things are more frustrating than having someone pretend that they know how you feel, or how you should respond to adversity.  When connecting with a friend, try to avoid assuming what they might be feeling or telling them how they should be feeling. Try and acknowledge their feelings by rephrasing what they shared with you and politely ask them if that was correct. This provides validation and an opportunity for them to reflect on their feelings.  

Validating and acknowledging your friend’s feelings and letting them know that they are not alone is also a great way to show emotional support. Saying things like “That must be frustrating!”, “That hurts”, and “I am here for you” can be some powerful validating statements. Avoid questioning their feelings and making the conversation about you and your reactions.  

USF Counseling Center offers a Move Forward Series of drop-in workshops that can help you gain skills to manage interpersonal relationships.  

  1. Further develop your skill set 

USF offers a variety of opportunities to support your friends who have mental health concerns. Campus Connect is a great training for students that can help you understand how to assist a friend who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, or wanting to harm themselves. By going to this training, as well as Mental Health First Aid, you can learn specific skills to support your friends, and you also will learn about some more common mental health conditions. 

  1.  Suggest connecting with a mental health professional 

Sometimes the best way to help a friend is letting them know all of the resources available to them and allowing them to make the decision on their own. Let your friend know you care for them and are concerned by providing them the information they may need or want about services, then allow them to make the decision that is best for them. 

USF offers short-term mental health counseling and mental wellness services in a variety of formats (e.g., TogetherALLUSF Counseling CenterUSF Student Health ServicesUSF Psychological Services Center, and resources to get connected to an off-campus provider). You can learn more about these different services here. Seeing a counselor one-on-one, or joining a counseling group or a drop-in session can be helpful for many Bulls. 

IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS EXPERIENCING A LIFE- THREATENING EMERGENCY, CALL: 9-1-1 OR UNIVERSITY POLICE (813) 974-2628. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing a personal or emotional crisis after hours, please call our 24-hour number at (813) 974-2831 and press option 3 to speak with a licensed mental healthcare professional.