Helping a Friend at School

A True Friend When Going Gets Tough

Friends are a demanded commodity when there are upsetting times.  In fact, more than not, teenagers oftentimes depend on their friends when things aren’t going well or unexpected things happen.  Teens can relate to each other at a level most adults have grown out of.  Adults only offer what adults offer, rational and mature advice or direction that really doesn’t resemble what kids seek.  They want to feel understood, like their friends who “get it”.    Friends are crucial fore-runners in helping each other out when things get hard.  Giving support, spending time, giving hugs, and just being there are “must do’s” for those kids hurting.  Friends truly understand and feel the pain their friends experience.  Nothing can take the place of what friendships can do.

The hard part comes when hugs, listening or spending time with a troubled friend isn’t enough    All the good intentions in the world just aren’t enough when friends have serious problems.    In fact, offering naïve advice, suggesting quick fixes, sympathizing too much or keeping the problem a secret can actually make the problems worse. 

Being a true friend is realizing when their friend’s problems are too much to handle without an adult or professional involved.   Teens struggle with many difficult problems these days.  When a friend is self-harming (e.g., cutting themselves), engaged in high-risk activities (e.g., speeding, promiscuity or unprotected sex, drugs/alcohol), throwing up their food, displaying drastic mood changes, doing poorly in school, withdrawing, or threatening suicide, the best thing to do is get them the right support from a trusted adult.  As a friend, you need to be there for them, stay by their side and let them know you care.  However, it is not your job to carry the burden of fixing their problems.  Your friend needs and deserves help from adults and/or trained professionals who take on that responsibility. 

Being a friend means being there in easy and more tough times. If your friend is experiencing a mental health condition, support them and make sure they get the help they need.   You can make a huge difference in someone’s life by being a true friend.

Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW

St. Williams Mental Health