WARNING SIGNS AND WHAT TO DO
Information provided comes directly from UNC Counseling and Psychological Services
Signs of Distress:
Expressing helplessness or distress
Lack of energy
Increasingly sad, or depressed mood
Very flat, or apathetic
Increased irritability, anger, or restlessness
Increased anxiousness, panic, or persistent worrying
Classes: Extreme procrastination
Diminishing quality of work
Missing class or meetings
Inability to concentrate
Falling asleep in class
Disturbing material in academic assignments
Impaired speech or disjointed thoughts
Hyperactivity or very rapid speech
Strange or bizarre behavior
Social withdrawal, isolation
Unable to enjoy activities that are normally enjoyable
Having trouble leaving one's residence hall, house, or apartment
Threatens, talks about, or hints at doing harm to self or others
Sleeping too much or too little, erratic sleep pattern
Always tired or very restless
Changes in eating habits and weight
Apathy about appearance, health, or personal hygiene
Certain events can trigger a crisis:
What may seem of minor importance to one person can be extremely distressing to another. Be alert to how someone who has experienced one of the following events is reacting to them:
Breakup or rejection in an important relationship
An abusive or controlling relationship or incident of sexual assault
Loss of an important opportunity, goal, or status
Facing legal or administrative sanctions and consequences
Death of a loved one
WHAT TO DO
FIND AN APPROPRIATE TIME AND PLACE TO SPEAK WITH THE DISTRESSED FRIEND
Ask them to speak to you privately, at a time and place where you can both focus on the conversation without distraction.
DESCRIBE WHAT YOU OBSERVE
Be objective by stating what you observe that is concerning to you. Avoid making assumptions about why the student is distressed. You could say something like, "I noticed you seem pretty upset lately."
Indicate that you are concerned about their well-being and that you want to help.
Ask about what seems to be wrong.
Just listen, carefully, sensitively, without judgment. Give them your undivided attention.
Accept the person “as is,” without agreeing or disagreeing with his/her behavior or point of view.
Sincerely communicate your understanding of the issue as they describe it, in both content and feeling.
Help the person understand that the situation can improve and that things will not always seem so bad. Do not try to fix, criticize, moralize, correct, or make decisions for the person. Give reassurance and information - people can and do recover from mental illness.
Encourage the person to continue to talk about their issues, and remind them that it is normal to talk with someone he/she can trust when in need of help. Talking is a natural way to relieve stressful emotions. Ask about and encourage self-care techniques the student has used in the past.
The student may find it helpful to talk with other supportive people. Options include:
A trusted faculty member, administrator or staff member
A family member
A medical provider
A spiritual leader
BE WILLING TO VISIT COUNSELING SERVICES WITH THE STUDENT
If the student appears distressed enough and open to your help, you may want to seize the moment by offering to visit counseling services with them.
BE AVAILABLE AND FOLLOW-UP
Remain open to further discussions, let them know that you are available if they need you. Check back with the person, because you care about how they are feeling.
REMEMBER YOUR ROLE AND YOUR OWN LIMITS
Your role is to provide support and to suggest other options when support is not enough. Remember your own limits, do not become more involved than your time and skill permits. If the issues are beyond your ability to help, you may want to call and talk with a therapist about how you can best help.