If you or your friend is experiencing a life-threatening emergency, and you are not sure who to contact for help, call 911. Signs of suicide as previously mentioned include talking about suicide, feeling hopeless, increased drug or alcohol use, isolation from friends and family, decreased interest in activities, saying goodbye, and giving away possessions. These are serious symptoms, and if your friend is demonstrating any of these it is important to seek help immediately.
Some other resources which may be helpful, which should be written down or saved as a contact in your phone include:
- Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990
- Provides crisis counseling and support to individuals experiencing mental health crises related to any disaster
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- Provides support to individuals in suicidal crisis or emotional distress
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
- Provides support to individuals who are victims of domestic violence, or those who are abusive partners seeking help to change their behavior
- National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453
- Provides crisis intervention, resources, and information regarding child abuse to callers
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
- Provides support to victims of sexual assault, domestic, and dating violence
How schools can help intervene
If you have not identified an immediate crisis situation, there are a number of resources available to help in the long term.
Common concerns about seeking help
Many students are resistant to use mental health services, some common concerns include:
- Fear of negative stigma
- Lack of access or funds to pay for healthcare
- Uncertainty of if their symptoms are serious enough
- Lack of awareness of available services (Fezel, Mina, et al., 2014)
If these concerns arise, hopefully a more detailed explanation of common mental health services will be helpful. Clearly identifying the presence of a mental illness is not a prerequisite to using mental health resources, and if something is causing considerable difficulty in someone’s life they should seek help.
- An important resource to consider is an individual’s family. If they feel comfortable and safe in their family environment, a parent or guardian may be the best person suited to help. Family members have the most control over their living situation and can make changes. Individuals under the age of 18 are also dependent on their parent or guardian for health insurance, which can be used to access mental health resources and medication.
- School and Community resources
- School psychologists: School districts are required to have school psychologists to evaluate the needs of students for special education programs, they also may provide mental health support to the rest of the student body. Every school does not necessarily have a school psychologist or social worker so you will have to look into the resources specific to your school. School psychologists are licensed mental health professionals. School psychologists may also run support groups and other programs that could be helpful.
- General academic counselors: School counselors supply general social and academic advising. They are not mental health professionals but they can advise students on some basic mental health scenarios and can recommend students for professional evaluation of mental illnesses and learning disabilities. They also help arrange Individualized education plans, or IEPs, for students with learning accommodations for a mental illness or learning disability. Academic counselors may be particularly knowledgeable on school related mental health struggles like making friends, test anxiety, and managing learning disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia.
- Other school staff: Teachers and members of school leadership are not mental health professionals but can be a resource to turn to if you are unsure of next steps. They may be knowledgeable of community resources and be able refer you to someone who can help. If you are unsure of the mental health resources your school offers, speaking to the administration is a great first step.
Confidentiality is a concern of many students, especially those who are under the age of 18. One of the most frequent concerns of students who speak to school psychologists is if they can discuss underage use of illegal substances like drugs and alcohol.
- Over 16% of people aged 12-17 reported elicit drug use during the year of 2017, and 31% reported alcohol or tobacco use
- Of those who met the criteria for a substance use disorder, 82.5% did not receive mental health treatment (McCance-Katz & Lynch, 2019)
Concerns over confidentiality are far too often a barrier between individuals and the treatment they need. Mental health professionals are not trying to trick anyone into revealing personal information, but they are required to report a few serious topics if they come up.
- Mandated Reporters
Mandated reporters are individuals that are required by law due to the nature of their job to report to authorities when they become aware of a serious risk of harm to an individual. Legal requirements vary by state but it is safe to assume that all school staff are mandated reporters. Content from conversations that happen outside of a confidential setting may also be shared without your knowledge if the person deems necessary.
- When are conversations confidential?
Meetings with school counselors, social workers or school psychologists are generally confidential, however these people are still mandated reporters. Generally speaking, the information you share with these individuals will not be shared without your consent unless ordered by a court or if you describe serious risk of harm to yourself or others. Confidentiality may also be broken in order to share information with parents or guardians depending on school policy and the discretion of the counselor. It is important to ask about the specific policies your school has about confidentiality. Counselors will have to make judgement calls based on what they define as a serious risk so it is important to go over their interpretation of confidentiality and risk assessment. Policies on underage drug and alcohol use also vary by school. You can ask school staff about these policies without revealing any personal information. Your request for this information does not qualify as confirming you or a friend’s use of illegal substances.
How can you intervene and what’s your role?
As mentioned under “How to Help Your Friend Who is Experiencing a Mental Health Issue”, active listening is one of the most important components of supporting a friend. Your role as a friend supporting another friend is primarily to listen, evaluate your role, and take the necessary steps to get help. This role may vary based on the severity of the situation, but active listening is always the first step. Reference the information on active listening, conversation starters, and crisis response to get you started. This knowledge will help you get started with your intervention and understand your role as a support person for your friend. The below information will give an overview of your role while helping a friend, and the prevalence of seeking help from others and knowing your limits.
The following information can be useful for you to determine your role, and understand your limits while helping a friend:
- Adolescents such as yourself generally understand the limits of what they can do to help a friend that is struggling, and when you may need to seek help elsewhere. Be aware of your own abilities when helping a friend, and don’t be afraid to seek help from a professional or trusted adult.
- Being in the role of helping a friend or peer with a mental health issue is rewarding and builds trust, intimacy, and support. Being there for your friend will strengthen your relationship and build on the intimacy of your friendship.
- Sometimes, individuals in your situation may not feel equipped to help their friends with mental health issues, or may not have the knowledge or resources to be able to help. This website serves as a guide to help you help your friend, and provides intervention and communication strategies. If you find yourself unsure of how to help, or feel overwhelmed by your role as a support person, seek help elsewhere through a trusted adult such as a parent, teacher, coach, etc.
- Knowing your limits is vital when helping a friend with a mental health concern. Trying to over-help when you are under equipped may have a negative effect on the outcome of your friend, and will cause you unnecessary stress. It can also be scary when dealing with a friend with depression or thoughts of suicide. Use this website as a map for helping your friend who is struggling with their mental health, but don’t hesitate to reach out to professionals and adults in your community, and be aware of your own limits and abilities.
- You may not always have the answers on how to help your friend, and there may become a point when your friend’s mental health status is affecting your own. It is at these times when it is important to get professional help for your friend, which can provide you with some relief, and will ensure your friend gets the help they need.