Supporting a Friend in Crisis
Transitioning into a college environment can be complicated, made even more challenging by the academic workload and pressure to invest in professional development opportunities while balancing social responsibilities. Students are simultaneously navigating having full autonomy for the first time, buying their own meals, configuring a movement routine, and managing friendships and creating allies. It can feel overwhelming. The college experience is portrayed as the "best years of your life." However, many will also find that college can bring about stress, anxiety, and hardships. According to recent survey data, only 23% of GW students surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that GW is a campus where we look out for each other. Together, we can help to change this narrative and better support our peers, enabling us all to live happier, healthier, and more successful lives.
of GW students surveyed strongly agreed or agreed that they feel they belong at GW.
of GW students surveyed strongly agreed or agree that their social relationships were supportive and rewarding.
If you suspect that a friend or close acquaintance is struggling, in distress, or in crisis, there are a few indicators to monitor:
- Physical Indicators
- Marked changes in physical appearance including deterioration in grooming, hygiene, or weight loss/gain
- Excessive fatigue/sleep disturbance
- Intoxication, hangovers, or smelling of alcohol
- Disoriented or “out of it”
- Garbled, tangential, disconnected, or slurred speech
- Behavior is out of context or bizarre
- Delusions and paranoia
- Psychological Indicators
- Self-disclosure of personal distress such as family problems, financial difficulties, contemplating suicide, grief
- Unusual/disproportionate emotional response to events
- Excessive fearfulness, panic reactions
- Irritability or unusual apathy, verbal abuse (e.g., taunting, badgering, intimidation)
- Expressions of concern about the student by his/her/their peers
If a friend or close acquaintance discloses something personal or sensitive, follow these best practices to support them.
- 1. Validate their feelings
Let them know that what they’re feeling is okay and that you believe them. When someone reaches out to you, validate their feelings and acknowledge that whatever they are going through is okay. Even if you cannot relate with what they are going through, it’s real to them. This can sound like, “That makes sense,” “That sounds difficult,” “I believe you,” or, “I hear you.”
- 2. Appreciate their concerns
Speaking up can be a challenging step — let them know it’s a good one. You can use this opportunity to let them know you care and they’re not alone. This can sound like, “Thank you for opening up to me,” “It helps to know a little more about what you’re going through,” or “I’m here for you if want to talk about things.”
- 3. Refer them to support
Let them know that help is available and refer them to appropriate resources. Sometimes what a person needs is a listening ear and social connection. Sometimes they will need more. You can help them to figure out what will work best for them in this moment. This can sound like, “What do you think can help you find balance with everything going on?,” or “What’s one thing that would make a big difference for you right now, in this moment?”
If after speaking with a friend or close acquaintance you believe they may need additional support, direct them to relevant support services.
Students, parents, faculty, and staff can identify students that may need additional support through the CARE Team’s online form. Students are connected to resources through inter-departmental collaboration to provide them with appropriate and personalized outreach.
To get connected with a therapist for an initial consultation, CAPS offers daily virtual and in-person drop in hours from 12-4 in the Student Health Center. For students experiencing urgent concerns outside these hours, students can present in-person to the SHC or call the office at 202-994-5300 during business hours. Counseling support is also available after business hours 365 days a year by calling our office and following the prompts to get connected to an on-call counselor.
There are a variety of crisis hotlines available, including the suicide prevention lifeline, the sexual assault response team, and the veteran's crisis line. Most are available 24/7 and connect you to services in your vicinity.
Additional support beyond GW services may be needed for some students. From long-term mental health care to more specialized medical needs, GW can help connect you with local resources.
Supporting friends as they go through challenges can bring on its own weight and impact. Make sure that you are checking in with yourself after supporting a friend. Here are some tips to rest and recover:
- Give yourself space to rest.
When you support a friend, you are investing significant emotional energy which can be draining. It's important to create the space to refill your tank. Take a walk without technology. Plan a solo movie night. Do some joyful movement. Give yourself permission to feel tired and the permission to rest appropriately.
- Acknowledge your feelings.
A variety of feelings can come up with you support a friend through challenging emotions or a hard time. It can be easy to take on their feelings as your own. It is important to acknowledge that whatever you are feeling is ok and it may take time to work through and process those feelings.
- Seek help for yourself.
It may be helpful to talk to a mental health professional yourself! Though you may not be the one with the primary challenge, situations where you intervene or support can bring up feelings that require extra dialogue.