Help A Friend in Distress

Although everyone feels "stressed" at times, excessive stress, or distress, can show in a number of ways. If you notice any of these behaviors in a friend, he or she may be dealing with distress: 

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Vague physical aches and pains and/or lack of energy
  • Loss of interest in activities that s/he once enjoyed
  • Depressed or sluggish mood
  • Lack of motivation
  • Excessive tension or worry
  • Restlessness, hyperactivity, unusually fast or confused speech
  • Excessive alcohol or drug use
  • Drop in academic performance or class attendance
  • Social withdrawal
  • Increased irritability, anger
  • Dangerous or threatening behaviors (toward self or others)
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Self-injury (cutting, scratching, burning)
  • Unusual or exaggerated response to events (overly suspicious, overly restless, easily startled)
  • Increased crying, hypersensitivity
  • Difficulties focusing and concentrating
  • Negative view of self
  • References to suicide

How to Help:

  • Talk to your friend in private. Try to give him or her undivided attention. Just a few minutes of listening might enable him or her to make a decision about what to do.
  • Listen carefully and with sensitivity. Be open-minded to what your friend has to tell you.
  • Be honest and direct, but non-judgmental. Share what you have observed and why it concerns you. For example: "I've noticed that you've been missing class a lot lately and you aren't answering your phone or texts like you used to. I'm worried about you."
  • Note that distress often comes from conflicting feelings or demands. Acknowledge this, and from time to time, paraphrase what your friend is saying. For example: "It sounds like on the one hand, you very much want to please your family, but on the other hand, you aren't sure that what they want for you is what you really want to do."
  • Make a referral. Encourage the person to go to the Counseling Center or consider walking him or her there.
  • Follow up. Let your friend know that you'll be checking back with him or her later to see how things turned out.

Responding in a caring way to a friend in distress showing you care can help prevent situations from escalating into a crisis.  If you are worried about a friend and unsure how to help, call your campus Counseling Center and ask to speak to a counselor.

If your friend seems to need additional outreach and support, do not hesitate to contact the Student Outreach and Support team. If there is an imminent threat, please contact University Police by dialing 911 immediately--you could be saving your friend's life!