You may be one of the first individuals to notice that something is wrong or that a person is distressed. During times of high stress, emotional distress may be expected, and you may notice that a person is acting out of character or in ways outside of their normal behavior. Often, the individual's behavior may cause you to become upset or worried. You may be a resource in times of trouble, and your expression of interest and concern may be crucial in helping the individual regain emotional stability. You may also be in a good position to use campus and community resources so that appropriate interventions can occur.
Signs of Possible Distress
- Change in performance or behavior
- Excessive absence or tardiness
Trouble eating and/or sleeping
- Disruptive behavior
Exaggerated emotional response that is disproportionate to the situation
Depressed or lethargic mood
Hyperactivity or very rapid speech
Change in personal hygiene
Dramatic weight loss or gain
Dependency (the individual spends an inordinate amount of time around you or makes excessive appointments to see you)
Behavior indicating loss of contact with reality
Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
References to suicide
Reference to homicide or assault
Isolation from friends, family, or classmates
Giving away personal or prized possessions
Preparing for death by making a will and final arrangements
What to Do
DO trust your intuition.
DO speak with the individual privately and express your willingness to help in a direct and non-judgmental manner.
DO let the individual know you are concerned about his/her welfare.
DO listen carefully to what the individual is upset about; actively listen.
DO acknowledge the feelings of the individual; help explore options.
DO point out that help is available and that seeking help is a sign of strength and courage, rather than weakness or failure.
DO suggest resources; make personal referrals when possible, and call ahead to brief the person.
DO maintain clear and consistent boundaries and expectations; recognize your own limits.
DO call 911 if you are concerned for your immediate safety or that of others, or if the individual needs immediate attention.
DO consult with an appropriate mental health resource if you are concerned for the individual but you are not concerned about any immediate danger to him/herself (e.g., sexual assault, recent loss).
DO refer an individual to an appropriate campus or community resource for support related to personal or academic issues; When in doubt, contact your supervisor or director.
What Not to Do
DON’T ignore the unusual behavior.
DON’T minimize the situation.
DON’T ignore warning signs about the individual's safety or the safety of others.
DON’T promise confidentiality.
DON’T judge or criticize.
DON’T make the problem your own.
DON'T involve yourself beyond the limits of your time, skill, or emotional well-being.
*Adapted with permission from Kent State University.