How to Help a Distressed Student
Quick Tips on How to Help
Each member of the campus community can offer assistance when one sees another in distress. Distressed or distressing behavior may actually be a "cry for assistance." Here are some tips you can consider in interacting with a student before she/he are able to get professional help.
If you decide to help, then do it with H.E.A.R.T.
- Stop what you’re doing and really listen to what the student is saying.
- Acknowledge what you have heard and let the student know you understand.
- Express concern and interest.
- Avoid criticizing or sounding judgmental.
- Remember, even if the problem does not seem real to you, it may be very important to the student.
- Ask the student, “What have you thought about doing?”
- Discuss the pros and cons of different courses of action.
- Don’t expect to have all the answers.
- Be honest about your concerns and limitations.
- The student may need professional help.
- Do not agree to be secretive about his or her problem.
- Help the student find appropriate resources.
- Offer to go with him or her to talk with a professional.
- Do not ignore comments about suicide, violence, or harm to others.
- Seek professional assistance.
[*adapted from Fairliegh Dickinson University on 2/3/10]
If you think it’s a crisis: call 911
Helpful Handouts from the USF Counseling Center
The Counseling Center at USF has developed a collection of handouts and links that provide even more details on how to help someone who might be in distress or crisis. And again, no one expects you to be your own professional or to be that for someone else. Think of this information as more tools in your toolbox for helping someone in distress.
- Referring a Student to the Counseling Center
- Recognizing Emotional Distress
- Recognizing Violence Against Others
- Effective Listening/Helping Skills
Taking Care of Yourself
There Really are Limits of What You Can and Can't Do
In dealing with a distressed person, personal safety and wellbeing are just as important as that of the person in distress. It’s important to recognize the limits of what can be done to help someone in distress.
What can be helpful:
- Be genuinely concerned and supportive
- Be honest about the time and effort you can afford to spend in helping
- Be aware of personal needs and limitations
- Maintain and respect healthy boundaries
What isn’t helpful:
- Trying to control how another person is going to respond
- Attempting to force another person to change
- Forcing someone to take action to help themselves
[*adapted from the University of Texas at Austin on 2/15/10]