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Advice and Counselling Service

Information for friends and family

If you are worried about someone else and feel unsure about what to do, you may find it helpful to read through this information. This page is about supporting someone with their emotional or mental health. If you are supporting someone with practical, financial or immigration issues, please refer to the advice pages of our website.

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If someone has confided in you

The most important thing you can do is listen. Knowing that you understand how they feel and want to listen may be all the person will need to begin to address their worries. But if not, do not feel you have to offer ongoing support. 

Help them to get the help they need. Offer to go with them to arrange support, if appropriate. Sometimes it can be daunting to take action on your own. Your support might make the difference. 

If someone’s behaviour is causing you concern 

Mental distress can become apparent in several ways. Someone’s behaviour may become erratic, they may avoid socialising or there may be signs of self-harm. 

If someone’s behaviour is causing you concern but they haven’t said anything, then consider telling them how you feel and what it is that is causing you concern. 

It is more common than one may think to suffer or know someone who suffers from some form of emotional or mental distress during one's lifetime. 

Mental distress describes a range of experiences that impact on an individual’s day to day life. 

  • Sleeping and eating patterns may get disrupted 
  • Behaviour becomes erratic 
  • Moods appear volatile 
  • There may be a noticeable withdrawal from social contact 
  • Self harm is often another aspect and manifestation of mental distress, as can be the heavy use of alcohol or street drugs 

Recognising early signs of mental distress, in yourself and others, can help lessen the detrimental impact it can have and can help you know when to seek help. 

When someone behaves in such a manner, it is vital to be sensitive and supportive, bearing in mind that there is a wealth of easily-accessible expert help within the University. 

If someone is unwilling to seek help themselves 

See if they will let you talk to someone on their behalf. If they refuse, you can still talk to someone about your concerns without naming them. 

If you feel the situation is an emergency, for example you feel there is a real risk that they may seriously harm themselves or others, you need to involve other people.  

One option is for you to contact the GP practice where they are registered as a patient, if known to you.  GPs have clinical responsibility for their patients which means that they have a duty to take reasonable steps to keep them safe from serious harm.   If you pass on information to them about the current crisis and risk they are facing, they will make an assessment and take any appropriate action.  They are unlikely to tell you anything about their patient, but they should take the details from you and take any necessary follow-up steps. 

Alternatively, if the risk of serious harm is immediately pressing, you might need to take them to the nearest Accident and Emergency Department of the local hospital or call an ambulance. A and E, and calling an ambulance, work in just the same way for a mental health emergency as they do for a physical health emergency. When you dial 999, the emergency services operator will normally be able to help you decide which emergency service you need. 

In some cases, it is more appropriate to call the police, who can do a 'welfare check' if there are concerns about serious harm.  This can be useful if you are not with the person at the time you are calling for help - sometimes the police are more able to gain access to somebody if, for example, they are not answering the door. If you are in university accommodation you can contact 24-hour Queen Mary Security for help calling the emergency services.  

Supporting yourself

It is important that you don’t take on too much and risk feeling alone and burdened by someone else’s distress. It won’t help them or you and it may end up affecting your relationship. 

If you need support to deal with the situation you can call one of the helplines on our External Support Organisations list or if you’re a Queen Mary student, you can arrange an appointment to speak in confidence with a university counsellor. 

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