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How to Support a Friend Suffering From Mental Illness

One in four college students lives with a diagnosable mental illness. That is an immense number of people we walk by, classmates we sit next to, and those we call our friends. It is no surprise that people confide in their friends first when they are not feeling their usual self. What is interesting is that mental health professionals are last in line, and that’s even if students seek help. While many of the people we live amongst are struggling with a mental illness, there is a far greater number capable of being a support system and uplifting those to conquer their mental struggle. As a school community, we hold the power to help our fellow classmates feel happy with themselves and gain a far more valuable experience from their college years.

Simply being aware of signs and knowing how to respond to situations is the key to turning someone’s life around to be a happy, healthier person. 


Red flags

  • Sudden mood changes
  • Deviance from normal routine
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Lack of interest
  • Substance abuse
  • Feelings of impulsivity
  • Anxiety
  • Adjusting to a major life change/ loss
  • Indications of suicidal thinking

How to respond

  • Repeat back your understanding of what they are feeling and why
  • Validate why they are feeling that way
  • Be an active listener
  • Try not to create a solution
  • Avoid promising confidentiality
  • Make sure they know you are part of their support system, and follow through
  • Feel comfortable asking if they have had thoughts of suicide
  • Be aware of services that are available

In an emergency

  • BU Police Department: 617-353-2121
  • BU Medical Campus Public Safety: 617- 414- 4444

On campus

  • Behavioral Medicine: 617- 353- 3569
  • Sexual Assault Response and Prevention: 617- 353- 7277


Know that any on-campus service will never deny a student and will do its best to get the appropriate treatment, even if that means referring students to resources outside of BU.


Alana is a junior studying Psychology at Boston University. While a born and bred New Englander hopelessly in love with the city of Boston, she derives much enjoyment out of planning trips to faraway places. She enjoys meeting new people, stealing Crossfit workouts off of 'box' websites, practicing yoga, and watching Grey's Anatomy. Her life-long goals include advocating for women's empowerment and promoting overall well-being.
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