What can I do if I am worried about a friend?

generic student

Almost every problem that crops up can be eased to some extent by simply talking about it.

When you are worried about a friend

If you’re worried about a friend, here are a few basic suggestions that might help you to help them:

  1. Ask yourself whether you are the best person to handle the situation. If nobody else is doing anything to help, then it’s probably up to you
  2. Take time to put yourself in the other person’s shoes so that you can communicate more effectively when you broach the subject
  3. Tell them that you’re worried about them
  4. Tell them why you’re worried, in straightforward, non-judgmental language
  5. Ask if they want to talk about it
  6. Ask if there is some way in which you can help
  7. Encourage the person to seek professional help if you think it necessary
  8. Follow up – don’t just leave it there. You may not relish the thought, but persistence is important if you have a friend who refuses to acknowledge a problem such as depression or an eating disorder, for example. The secret is to go back to point 1 on this list and start again, patiently but assertively, until you feel that the problem is on the way to a solution
  9. If you really feel worried about the consequences of speaking to the person and you are really worried that something might be seriously wrong – talk to a senior person – a member of the faculty or
    the Associate Dean for Student Support, Dr Megan Phelps.

You can also get confidential advice from the Counseling Service at the University or the Doctors Health Advisory Service – www.doctorshealth.org.au

When they don't think they have a problem

And what if you’re worried about something that doesn’t seem to be bothering your friend? You think, for example, that they are taking party drugs inappropriately – more,
or drinking too much when they go out. Steps 1-9 also apply in this situation, remembering that medical students are in a special category, since all students are registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - more

Answer: Go back to steps 1-9.

Worried about someone you don't know well?

And what about someone who is not really a friend, but whose behaviour suggests that something is seriously wrong and that they might harm themselves or someone else?
Try to find a more senior person to talk to about this but if you really have immediate concerns you may have to try to do something to help – steps 1-9 will still be a useful approach.

Where to seek advice

If you are worried you can seek confidential advice from:

  • any member of the Faculty
  • your Year Sub Dean
  • the Doctors Health Advisory Service phone advice line: (02) 9437 6552
  • the University of Sydney counseling service
  • the Sub-Dean for Student Support, Dr Megan Phelps

Warning signs

The most important warning sign for someone who may be ill, stressed or have psychological problems is a change in their usual behaviour or manner. We can sometimes be quick to judge when people don’t seem to be pulling their weight or behave in antisocial ways – this can be a sign that things are not right for them.

Look out for friends and colleagues who may be unduly anxious, preoccupied, sad or angry. Be concerned enough to ask after peers who become withdrawn in groups or socially.

When people become short tempered, aggressive or argumentative – it may be a sign of underlying distress rather than just bad behaviour.

When people are distressed for whatever reason they sometimes start to pay less attention to their appearance, become disorganised and forgetful or be easily distracted – if this is a change in their usual behaviour it might be worth asking if they are okay. Chronic lateness, missed classes and engagements might also be a pointer to underlying stress rather than laziness.

If you have concerns consider points 1 to 9 again.

What not to do

Talking about another student behind their back can easily be construed as gossiping both by the person you are talking to and the person you are talking about.

If you do find it necessary to express your concerns to another student or faculty member, it should always be in the context of identifying a constructive way of helping the person concerned. Just think about what you would want for yourself.


"Party drugs"

Now here’s a thought: Does anyone else find it just a bit ironic that we call them ‘party drugs’? Buying party drugs means investing in an industry that is connected with violent crime, stand-over tactics, money laundering, prostitution, not to mention the physical and mental harm that sometimes results from drug use – if you use party drugs, you can be certain that some people are not having much of a party — see this report from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

Medical Council of NSW

The primary concern of the Medical Council of NSW is patient safety. Its special concern therefore is any student who suffers from any physical or mental impairment, disability, condition or disorder which detrimentally affects or is likely to detrimentally affect the person’s physical or mental capacity to practice medicine. Further information about the Medical Council’s Health Program for impaired doctors and medical students is available via the following link: www.mcnsw.org.au/page/5/doctors–performance–conduct—health/doctors–health/