Signs Your Friend Might Be Struggling Emotionally

Balancing all of life’s demands–school, work, relationships, finances–can be stressful for anyone. And on top of our everyday challenges, going through certain transitions – losing a job, experiencing a break-up, questioning one’s identity, grieving a loved one– could challenge any of us. As a friend, you are in a unique position to notice warning signs that someone you care about might be feeling more overwhelmed by stress, anxiety or sadness than is manageable.

How Can I Tell if a Friend is Struggling?

How can you tell whether a friend is just having a tough day or dealing with something more serious? Keep an eye out for some of these common warning signs of emotional struggle:

Changes in behavior

  • No longer participating in activities they once enjoyed
  • Isolating themselves from friends and family, and communicating less than normal
  • Sleeping more and still feeling tired
  • Being less productive at work or school
  • Eating differently, either losing their appetite, or eating much more than usual
  • Increasing their use of drugs and alcohol
  • Showing impaired judgment or reduced inhibitions

Changes in appearance

  • Neglecting hygiene or basic care, like how often they bathe or change clothes
  • Looking tired or sad frequently
  • Dramatic weight loss or weight gain

Changes in mood

  • Having trouble coping with everyday stressors or challenges, or worrying and stressing out more than usual
  • Overreacting to situations or becoming sad, irritated, angry, or aggressive more easily
  • Feeling sad and hopeless all the time

Changes in what they say to you or others

  • “I’m totally worthless.”
  • “I’m messing up everything in my life.”
  • “What’s the point?”
  • “I wish I could just not wake up.”
  • “I’ve let people down.”
  • “I don’t feel well.” (Or expressing other physical complaints, like constant headaches, exhaustion, or stomach cramps)
  • Frequent negative comments about their weight or other aspects of their appearance

Changes in what they post online

  • Posting comments such as, “I hate myself,” or “I suck at everything.”
  • Posting dark poetry or quotes, disturbing songs or videos
  • Using hashtags that are connected to topics you find unusual or worrisome for them (#overit #imdone #igiveup).
  • Using sad, distressed emoticons or emoticons of destructive things such as guns and knives

Warning signs may not always be clear-cut

It’s not always easy to tell if a friend is struggling emotionally, as many of these changes may happen gradually and may not seem so severe at first. It’s also important to remember that some warning signs don’t look the way we’d expect them to. Anger can be a sign of depression. Isolation can be a sign of anxiety. Withdrawing from activities or friends can be a sign of an eating disorder. It’s important to remember that you are not trying to diagnose your friend–instead, it’s helpful to know that they may be experiencing something and could use extra support. This is especially true if the signs you notice do not resolve after a day or so or when a situational stressor ends.

How Can I Help a Friend Who is Struggling?

Sometimes, even when our instincts tell us that something is off with one of our friends, we second guess our own feelings because we don’t want to make a wrong assumption and offend them or push them away. Part of being a good friend is showing up when someone we care about is going through a difficult time. This includes trusting your instincts and taking the risk to be honest about what you noticed and why you’re concerned.

What should you do when you notice a concerning change in your friend’s mood, behaviors, or what they say?

  • First and most importantly, if you believe there is an immediate threat and that your friend might harm themselves or someone else, call 9-1-1.
  • If you are worried about a friend and not sure how to help, you can text START to 741741 or call 988 to chat with a trained counselor anytime.
  • Read up on how and when to start a conversation with a struggling friend
  • Learn more about how to help a friend who decides to reach out for support
  • Learn the warning signs of suicide and speak up if you notice any of them in your friend’s behavior

You May Need Support Too

Worrying about a friend and supporting them while they seek help can impact your own emotional health. Remember to take care of yourself. If the impact on your emotional health is interfering with your life or if you’re seeing any of the warning signs we’ve talked about in this article, reach out for support for yourself

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If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7. 

You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.