Dealing with Distressed Individuals

You may be one of the first individuals to notice that something is wrong or that a person is distressed. Although emotional distress may be expected, especially during times of high stress, you may notice that a person is acting out of character or in ways that are inconsistent with typical behavior. Often, the person’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 critical 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. Refer to the enclosed campus card for resources in your area.

 

  • Marked change in performance or behavior
  • Excessive absence or tardiness
  • Trouble eating and/or sleeping
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Undue aggressiveness
  • Exaggerated emotional response that is disproportionate to the situation
  • Depressed or lethargic mood
  • Hyperactivity or very rapid speech
  • Marked change in personal hygiene
  • Excessive confusion
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Dependency (e.g., 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
  • References to homicide or assault
  • Isolation from friends, family or classmates
  • Giving away personal or prize possessions
  • Preparing for death by making a will and final arrangements
  • DO trust your intuition.
  • DO speak with the individual privately and express your willingness to help in a direct and nonjudgmental manner.
  • DO let the individual know you are concerned about the individual’s 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 (e.g., sexual assault, recent loss); see enclosed campus card for resources.
  • 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 chair/director.
  • 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.