It is not uncommon to encounter frustration and setbacks at different life stages, which may lead to emotional instability. Some of us can rebound to a balanced state by self-regulation after a while; some of us may need longer time or others’ assistance; while some of us may need to seek professional support in order to get over the emotional turmoil.
Does your friend experience the following situations?
- Cries a lot and could not concentrate. Peer counselling does not seem to help and the situation lasts for months.
- Involves in a troublesome romantic relationship which drags him/her down.
- Calls at 3am and says, “I can no longer tolerate this pain. No one can help me. I want to disappear from this world!”
- Rejects all invitations and refuses to go out or socialise with others.
Walk with your friends
How to help your emotionally disturbed friends? To lend a helping hand, you should first identify signs of mental disturbances. Below are some useful tips! If your friend experiences these symptoms for more than two consecutive weeks, there are reasons to concern about his/her mental wellness. It may be time for us to offer our support.
Signs of low mood and/or anxiety
- Complain of tiredness, even if he/she is sleeping more than usual;
- Have difficulty to fall asleep;
- Eat less or eat more than he/she usually does;
- Less interested in activities one usually enjoys;
- Have difficulty to engage in classroom discussion or struggle to understand and communicate;
- Fail to attend classes;
- Show decline in school grades;
- Fail to hand in work and assignment on time;
- Do not pay attention to personal hygiene and appearance;
- Complain of physical discomfort, such as headache, chest pain, stomachache and fast and irregular heartbeat;
- Be touchy and irritable in interaction with peers and/or family;
- Have more conflicts, which could include violence, with peers and/or family;
- Withdraw from family and/or friends;
- Spend more time with friends who appear to be depressed as well;
- Avoid meeting new people or socialising with groups, spending time with only a few “safe” friends;
- Avoid discussing important future events, such as decision about further education and career planning;
- Use alcohol or other drugs.
How to help a friend experiencing low mood and/or anxiety
- Accept his/her situation, values and experience;
- Be genuine;
- Be empathetic—stand in his/her shoes, let him/her know you genuinely care and understand;
- Actively approach him/her and express your concerns;
- Listen patiently and carefully to all his/her speech, use “understand”, “um-hum” wordings to show you are listening;
- Repeat his/her key points and feelings to ensure you understand;
- Respect his/her feelings;
- Accept silence, one may be gathering one’s thoughts and/or experiencing an influx of emotions;
- Encourage him/her to participate in more social gatherings or provide practical help in daily life;
- Be calm, objective, positive and open-minded to explore problems and solutions;
- Encourage him/her to seek professional help.
- Interrupt his/her speech;
- Neglect his/her feelings;
- Give unhelpful advice such as “be positive”, “cheer up”;
- Judge and/or criticise his/her thinking;
- Impose your own values and opinions.
Signs of suicidality
- Join online suicide group, search information about suicide;
- Express self-harm or suicidal thoughts through daily conversation or social media;
- Feel helpless, hopeless , and/or loss of meaning in life;
- Abandon or give away precious belongings;
- End a long and important relationship.
How to help a friend with suicidality
- Encourage your friend to express himself/ herself, listen patiently, be polite and respectful, acknowledge his/ her painful feelings;
- Directly ask about his/her suicidal thoughts and plans, look out for specific plan which indicates higher risk;
- Stay with your friend to avoid him/her being alone;
- If he/ she is taking substance, try to stop him/her;
- Ensure that he/she could not take any lethal tools;
- Contact his/ her family and encourage him/ her to seek professional help.
- Criticise the suicidal thoughts;
- Promise to keep confidential;
- Say “yes” to inappropriate request, e.g. taking care of his/ her family.
Seek professional help
It may be difficult to rely solely on personal effort to help someone with severe emotional disturbance. Other than keeping calm, offering active listening & emotional support and acceptance, you should encourage your friend to seek professional help, e.g. from counsellors, medical doctors, psychologists or social workers etc. In addition, you can help him/her to collect relevant information regarding the professional services, or even accompany him/her to seek these services.
You also need support
While giving support to your friends, you should also pay attention to your own emotional condition. Sometimes, your distressed friends may have some unreasonable requests or behaviors, such as expecting you to attend his/her call whenever he/she is in bad mood in the middle of the night. As a response, you may feel exhausted, helpless and even blaming yourself for not doing enough. However, you should acknowledge your limitations and that you have already offered your best. While you are helping your friends, you can also seek advice from your family, close friends and professionals. If possible, you should try to contact the family of the person concerned to ensure his/her safety, as well as to reduce your pressure.
How can I make an appointment?
- By telephone: Call WACC at 3943 7208 or 3943 3493 within office hours to arrange an appointment;
- Through internet: Online booking via WACC Initial Assessment Booking Service (For registered full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students who are new users of WACC counselling service only);
- In person: Visit WACC (located in 2/F Pommerenke Student Centre) within office hours to make an appointment.
If you have an urgent need to see a counsellor, you may visit WACC during office hours. The Duty Counsellor will assess your needs and make appropriate arrangements with you. If you need counselling service during non-office hours, please call the CUHK 24-hour Emotional Support Hotline at 5400 2055 (exclusively for CUHK Full-time Students and Part-time PGDE Students), or seek help from other Counselling Hotlines / Online Counselling Services.