Distress: Helping a Friend
Although everyone feels stressed at times, excessive stress can manifest itself in a number of ways.
Signs of Distress
- Trouble sleeping.
- Physical aches and pains and/or lack of energy.
- Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed.
- Depressed or lethargic mood.
- Lack of motivation.
- Excessive tension or worry.
- Restlessness, hyperactivity, pressured speech.
- Excessive alcohol use or substance use.
- Decline in academic performance, drop in class attendance.
- Social withdrawal.
- Changes in eating patterns.
- Self-injury (cutting, scratching, burning).
- Unusual or exaggerated response to events (overly suspicious, overly agitated, easily startled).
How to Help
Talk in private. Give the person your undivided attention. A few minutes of listening might help the person make a decision about next steps.
Listen carefully and with sensitivity. Listen in an open-minded and nonjudgmental way.
Be honest and direct, but nonjudgmental. Ask what's troubling your friend, and share what you've observed and why it concerns you. For example: "I've noticed you've been missing class a lot lately and you aren't answering your phone or text messages like you used to. I'm worried about you."
Distress often comes from conflicting feelings or demands. Acknowledge this and paraphrase what the other person is saying. For example: "It sounds like you want to please your family, but you aren't sure that what they want for you is what you really want to do."
Make a referral. Direct and/or accompany the person to the Student Counseling Center to make an appointment.
Follow up. Let the person know you'll be checking in to see how things turned out.
A crisis is a highly unpleasant emotional state, during which a person's typical coping strategies are no longer working. The nature of a crisis can be personal and subjective and its severity can range from mild to life-threatening. A crisis should always be taken seriously and responded to quickly.
Signs of a Crisis
- Extreme agitation or panic.
- References to or threats of suicide or other types of self-harm.
- Threats of assault, both verbal and physical.
- Highly disruptive behavior such as physical or verbal hostility, violence, destruction of property.
- Inability to communicate (slurred or garbled speech, disjointed thoughts).
- Disorientation, confusion, loss of contact with reality.
What You Can Do
Immediately call for assistance. In particular, ask for help if the individual is at imminent risk of harming his/herself or someone else.
During business hours. Contact the Student Counseling Center by calling or coming directly to the center. There are counselors available to assist in crisis situations.
After business hours. If it is after regular business hours and the individual is at risk of harming his/herself or someone else, contact the UT Dallas Police at 972-883-2222. You may also call the UTD Talk line at 972-883-8255 for support from an on-call counselor.
Don't take it upon yourself to approach someone who is highly agitated or violent. For your safety as well as others and the person in distress, rely on the help of trained professionals.
To learn more, read Suicide: Helping a Friend.
Recognize Your Limits
Your own safety and wellbeing are as important as that of the person in distress. Recognizing the limits of what you can and can't do to help is a crucial part of the process.
- Be genuinely concerned and supportive.
- Be honest with yourself about how much time and effort you can afford to spend helping.
- Be aware of your own needs and seek support for yourself.
- Maintain and respect healthy boundaries.
- Realize you can't control how the person is going to respond.
- Understand you can't decide for them whether or not the person wants help or wants to change.
A Final Reminder
When responding to a person in need, you don't have to be alone. When in doubt about how to handle a crisis situation, contact a responsible person with whom to share your concerns, such as a counselor, parent, coach, faculty member, police or staff person.
Feel free to contact the Student Counseling Center directly to seek advice about how to handle the situation. If after hours, call the UT Dallas Police at 972-883-2222 or call 911.