How can I help someone else?

Supporting Someone Else

Students may find themselves in the role of invisible carers, providing a considerable level of informal support to a fellow student. Sometimes personal tutors or other staff also find themselves taking on this role.

It is very important for helpers, whoever they are, to remain aware of their own needs and limitations and to get help for themselves. The Mental Health Advisers can offer support and advice.

Being there for someone else is part of our humanity and helps to make the world a better place, but supporting another person can be emotionally exhausting and frustrating, and may cause anxiety, leading to resentment and anger.

Knowing that someone is self-harming, or feels desperate enough to be suicidal, can provoke a wide range of emotions, including fear, anger and helplessness.

Follow these 5 steps to maintain your own well-being and make it easier to support others:

1.  Be realistic about what you can offer.
2.  Remember your responsibility to look after yourself. Don’t feel you have to prove what a good friend you are by always putting your friend’s needs ahead of your own.
3.  Help build a support network. It is not a good idea for you to be your friend’s sole or main source of support. The burden could be too great for you, and you could also lose objectivity. Make it clear to your friend that it is important he or she has others to turn to as well, and that you have someone to talk with when needed.
4.  Encourage your friend to seek professional help. It may help to explore what is getting in the way of seeking help, and to help overcome those barriers.  For example:

  • If they think going to a doctor or counsellor as a sign of weakness, encourage them to see that seeking professional help represents taking responsibility for their own well-being.
  • If they worry that having counselling makes them ‘abnormal’, try to normalise it for them. Tell your friend if you, or others close to you, have been helped by counselling.
  • If they don’t think it will be helpful, encourage them to keep an open mind:  they won’t lose anything by going for an exploratory session with a counsellor, and it might make a difference.
  • If they are scared to contact anyone for help, you could offer to stay with them while they phone their GP or the counselling service. They may also appreciate the offer to walk with them to their appointment.

5.  Get some help for yourself - when you are in a difficult situation and unsure how to manage it, having someone to think with can make all the difference.

The Mental Health Advisers and Student Counselling Service offer support sessions for students who are supporting other students.

We are also willing to meet with staff to offer support and advice on how to help students who are struggling with mental health difficulties.

Talking about suicide

Someone can feel suicidal and yet not want to die; what they want is for their pain and distress to stop, and they cannot see any other escape from the apparent hopelessness of their situation.

People may express varying degrees of ambivalence about suicide, and may feel more inclined to act on the urge to kill themselves at some times than at others (for example, when they have been drinking, or when they hear of someone else’s suicide).

If you think someone may be feeling suicidal, encourage them to talk about how they are feeling, and listen without trying to cheer them up or trivialise what they are saying in any way.
If possible, discuss any ambivalence they are feeling, and strategies for staying safe or seeking help when the suicidal thoughts occur. This might include a Safety Plan or contact details (such as: health professionals; help-lines) to keep readily available for the person to call upon when feeling at risk of suicide.

Understanding self-harm

If someone self-harms it does not necessarily mean that they want to take their own life.

Deliberate self-harm is used by some people as a survival strategy to help them manage extreme pain and distress.

A person may use self-harm to numb or to externalise emotional pain and to feel temporary relief.

Self-harm may enable the distressed person to feel more in control and able to cope.

Feelings of distress may build up again and the cycle repeats itself.

If you are worried about the mental health of a student and would like to talk to someone in confidence, please contact


Updated 04.04.19