Helping a friend

Hi. I noticed that a friend of mine has been acting weirdly recently. She’s been having difficulty maintaining relationships with people, and it seems to me that she wants affection from people, but is pushing them away at the same time. She is also very fearful of being abandoned by others, and reacts very violently when she does not get what she wants. I have been trying to convince her to speak to a mental health professional, but to no avail. How can I help her?

Thanks for your question. It’s distressing when someone you care about is acting strangely, pushing others away and unwilling to seek professional help. It sounds like you probably feel concerned and powerless to help. Your friend may well benefit from some professional help at the moment.

Counselling and input from mental health professionals will be of most use to your friend when she realises she may benefit from it and is willing to talk. Until this time, you can provide considerable support by continuing to be in contact with her, commenting on what you are noticing about her behaviours and letting her know you are concerned for her. You can also let her know that even if she is unwilling to talk or seek help at the moment, that you are available to listen and can help her connect with professional support in the future. You can also ask her what would be helpful to her in the meantime. If she is pushing you away or reacting violently towards you, you can continue to calmly offer your support whilst letting her know that it is hard for you when she reacts violently.

It can stressful to support someone and it is important to look after your own wellbeing too. Make sure you are not offering more support than you are able to give. Give yourself time to do things that are important to you and help you relax. Keep an eye on your own level of distress, discomfort and concern in relation to your friend and if you feel overwhelmed, consider arranging and appointment with a counsellor or other mental health professional. This might help you clarify boundaries and responsibility in your relationship.

Getting informed on mental health can also help you develop better skills and confidence in supporting your friend appropriately. If you are interested in learning more about mental health you could attended one of the mental health first aid training for students run by Counselling and Psychological Services. You may also find additional tips on this website.

If you have concerns about her level of risk to herself (self-injury or suicidal thinking) or that she may be at risk of harming others or there is an immediate crisis, I recommend that you contact Counselling and Psychological Services urgently to discuss. Other useful contacts include Safer Community, University Security or the Crisis, Assessment and Treatment Team.

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