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Helping Someone Else

Watching close friends or family members struggle with issues like depression, loss, alcohol, or other problems can be really tough. Knowing what to do or how to be helpful is not easy. How you respond to those in distress will depend on a number of things such as:

  • The nature and severity of the problem
  • The circumstances at the time you become aware of the problem
  • The relationship you have with the people
  • Your own personal inclinations and preferences with regard to how you might wish to be helpful

If you don’t view the situation as an emergency, you might decide not to intervene at all, so long as their problem seems minor or temporary.

But more likely, you might choose to focus on a minor problem indirectly by asking how they’re doing or letting them know you're concerned and that would like to help. As you take this step, be prepared to invest the time and effort it takes to be a good listener, to communicate patience and understanding and to sustain your effort over time to ensure that they make it through their difficult time. Frequently, it is your willingness to listen and to show your concern that it most helpful, rather than providing a solution or answer.

Also, consider that learning more about the problem they face may help you feel more comfortable or confident as a "helper." Consider doing an Internet search about the problem, reviewing the University of Chicago Counseling Center pamphlet collection or coming to Student Counseling Services (SCS) to consult with a staff member.

Emergency Help

While situations that seem to demand a response are rare, such emergency situations can occur. If such an occasion should arise, there are several helpful things to consider:

  • Approaching the situation calmly will allow you to be more effective and may also help the person become less emotionally upset or agitated.
  • Make it clear that you care about them and want to help them find a good solution, one that will both relieve the immediate crisis and be good for them in the long run.
  • Be prepared to make your best effort to hear them out. If they believe you understand their circumstance, they will be more likely to consider options you present.
  • Consider asking others for assistance, such as friends, family members or other appropriate people or agencies. On campus, you might contact the Illinois State University Police (911), Student Counseling Services (309) 438-3655 or University Housing staff. While Counseling Services is open, there is always a staff member available for emergency consultation (Needs link), who can help identify the most appropriate agency to intervene. After 4:30 p.m., contact the University Operator and ask for the Counseling Services Counselor On-Call. Or, call PATH (309) 827-4005 and talk with a trained volunteer. If needed, PATH can also reach the SCS Counselor On-Call.
  • If at all possible, do not leave the person alone. If for some reason you must leave, have someone stay until you return or help arrives.