Support a Friend

What to do if you suspect or know a friend:

Has experienced sexual assault

  • Avoid questions that start with who, what, where, when and why. While they are generally meant to gather details, they can often come across as blaming.
  • Ask: “How can I support you right now? What I can I do for you?”
  • Don’t force your friend to do anything. Because sexual violence inherently violates a person’s control and personal autonomy, the best thing to do is help to empower your friend. Avoid giving directive things like, “We have to go to counseling” or “We have to tell our R.A.” Simply follow your friend’s lead and support them with whatever they need.
  • Assess for safety. Ask: “Do you feel safe right now?” If your friend is in danger, ask them if you can call the police together.
  • If the assault happened within the last five days, your friend is able to get a rape kit done if desired. This means that a specially trained nurse will collect evidence in case the survivor ever wants to use it (Getting a rape kit done does not mean the survivor is required to go forward with an investigation). A survivor should never feel forced to do this, but you may want to let them know about their time window. Clothes should be stored in a paper bag (not plastic) for best evidence collection.
  • If a friend comes to talk to you about a “bad night” and is not using the terms “rape” or “sexual assault,” then don’t define their experience for them. In such a case, follow their lead and also refer to it as a “bad night.” It’s best to use the language they are using even if you would define the experience differently.
  • Reinforce that you believe them, that what happened to them is not their fault and that he/ she deserves so much better.
  • At the end of the conversation ask: “Going forward, how can I support you?” or “Is it OK for me to follow up with you?” Having a plan going forward may ease anxiety that survivors often feel after they disclose. They shouldn’t have to worry that you’ll bring this up every time you see them.
  • Keep it confidential! Don’t share what your friend has said with others on campus.
  • Remember that there are many people on campus who can support your friend regardless of whether or not they wish to go forward with any type of investigation. Check out the Merrimack Anti-Violence Education Network to learn more about Merrimack’s resources and policies.
  • Take care of yourself! It can be upsetting, infuriating and scary to hear that something like this happened to a friend. You should never disclose or report your friend’s story without their permission, but you may want to stop by our office or to speak with a trusted adult on campus to talk things through (without sharing any names or details).

Has contemplated or expressed thoughts of suicide

Merrimack cares about all students, and no student is alone when there is a concern about suicide. The most important thing you can do is to ask for help. 

If you are concerned about your immediate safety of the safety of someone you care about, please take one of these actions:

  • Immediately call the Merrimack College Police Department at 978-837-5911. If you are off campus, call 911.  
  • Access the counselor on Call at Hamel Health and Counseling Center via residence life staff or by calling the Merrimack College Police Department.

Recognizing Signs of Suicide

Thoughts or statements indicating a desire or wish to die:

  • “I wish I were dead.”
  • “I’m tired of life.”
  • “I’m so tired of it all.”
  • “You would be better off without me.”

Behaviors or actions that seem out of the ordinary or are of concern:

  • Lack of concern about personal safety or taking unnecessary risks.
  • Increased or dangerous substance use.
  • Prolonged depression or significant withdrawal from normal activities such as social relationships, academics or family.
  • Giving away prized possessions.
  • Stockpiling pills, weapons or other means of inflicting self-harm.

How to Help a Friend

 1. Question Them

Try to plan a time and find a private space to talk with your friend.  If they bring up thoughts of self-harm, remember that research shows that when someone is asked about self-harm they experience relief, not stress. Asking about it does not make it worse, it actually gives an opportunity to address the situation in a healthy way. Here are some ways to start the conversation:

  • “I’m concerned when you say things like ___________.  Are you serious about wishing you were dead?”
  • “When some people are as upset as you seem to be, they sometimes wish they were dead. I wanted to check in to see if you might feel that way, too.”
  • “I really care about you, and so I have to ask: Are you considering suicide?”

2. Persuade and Support Them

If someone expresses thoughts of suicide, your next step is to help connect them to resources that can help. First, listen to what they are saying. This is critical. Take a deep breath and remember that they are safe with you in this moment. Let your friend talk without interruption and without judgment. Let them know you are here to help. Second, try and persuade them to access help. Say:

  • “I’m concerned about you. Can we walk to Hamel together?”
  • “You are really important to me and I’m worried. I think it’s time to contact residence life staff to help us.”
  • “I care about you and don’t want to see anything bad happen. Would you be willing to sit with me and call for help?”

3. Ask for Help

If you are not sure what to do or someone you are worried about is not willing to get help, you will need to reach out for assistance from someone who can help. It is never your job to keep someone safe. Do not worry about seeming disloyal to someone you care about. The most important thing is to get someone help when they need it.  

  • If there is an immediate threat, call the Merrimack College Police Department at 978-837-5911.  Dial 911 if you are off campus.  
  • During business hours, contact Hamel Health and Counseling Center or speak to your resident director.
  • If you would like to speak with someone anonymously, you can call the National Hopeline Network at 1-800-SUICIDE,  the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK, or the Good Samaritan Hotline at 1-877-870-4673.

Has alcohol poisoning

Alcohol poisoning is a medical emergency that is potentially life threatening. Here’s what to do:

Check for symptoms of alcohol poisoning:

  • Unresponsiveness.
  • Inability to stay conscious.
  • Irregular or depressed breathing.
  • Weak pulse.
  • Vomiting.
  • Blue-tinged skin, especially around the lips or under the fingernails.
  • Lack of physical coordination.

If you see any of these signs or are unsure what to do:

  • Call Merrimack Police at 978-837-5911. See medical amnesty policy on page 45 of the Student Handbook.
  • Place the person on his/her side to avoid choking on vomit. 
  • Stay with the person and try to keep them awake.
  • Remain calm. Avoid communicating feelings of anger or anxiety. Speak calmly to the person and try to keep them relaxed.

Do not:

  • Do not give the person food, drink or medication.
  • Do not let the person “sleep it off.” Alcohol poisoning can be lethal!
  • Do not put the person in a cold shower.

Is suffering from depression

  • Be patient. Stay calm and try to get a sense of why the person is upset.
  • Be positive. Affirm strengths and stay away from sarcasm or criticism as much as possible.
  • Phrase compliments delicately, i.e., “When I saw you go to gym this morning, it inspired me to go. Thanks!” or “I really appreciate how you always take the time to listen to me even if you’ve had a rough day.”
  • Show that you care. Check in with your friend.
  • Don’t give up on your friend. Invite them to join you at events even if they consistently turn down your invitations.
  • Listen.
  • Laugh together. It really is the best medicine.
  • Understand your limits. You are not a therapist and need to take care of yourself as well.
  • Remind your friend that depression is treatable. Urge them to make an appointment at Hamel Health and Counseling Center.
  • Remember that depression is a real illness. Educate yourself on the topic.
  • If you are worried about your mood or that of a friend, take an anonymous screening.

Is coping with a loss

Grief is a common experience that we will all share, but it is still sometimes difficult to know what to say or do to help a grieving person.

Here are ways you can help comfort and support someone who is grieving:

  • Acknowledge the loss. “I heard that _________ died.” (Know that it is OK to use the word “died.”)
  • Express concern. “How are you doing today?” or “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  • Be genuine and honest. “I don’t know what to say, but I just want you to know that I care and I’m here for you.”
  • Use the name of the loved one who died. “________ was a good person and a dear friend of mine. I will miss him/her.”
  • Ask how they are feeling. “Please tell me what you’re feeling right now. I have never been through something like this before, and I am here to listen whenever you are ready.” Then listen without judgment.
  • Accept silence. “We don’t need to talk about this right now if you don’t want to. Just know that I’m here when you need me.”
  • Let them know they’re not alone. “We all need help at times like this. I’m just a phone call away, anytime.”
  • Offer your support. “Tell me what I can do for you.”
  • Encourage additional support if needed. “Have you thought about visiting a Hamel Health counselor or campus ministry? Many people seek assistance after a loss like this.”
  • Just be. Do nothing but sit in silence and just be with the person. Give them a hug or hold their hand.

Avoid the following:

  • Avoid saying things like “At least s/he is in a better place,” or “There is a reason for everything” or It’s been awhile, you must get over this.”
  • Avoid minimizing or distracting from feelings, attempting to explain or justify the loss, assuming judgment or using your own feelings.
  • Avoid expecting a specific time frame for grieving.