Helping Someone in Distress

As a member of the Kent State University community, you may become aware of an individual who is in distress, is acting out of character or in ways that are inconsistent with his/her previous behavior, or you may be concerned that they may harm themselves or someone else.  The following information will be useful in determining the most appropriate course of action.

What is my role?  How can I help?

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 access university and community resources so that appropriate interventions can occur.

Signs of Possible Distress

  • 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 prized possessions
  • Preparing for death by making a will and final arrangements

The DOs

DO trust your intuition.

DO speak with the individual privately and express your willingness to help directly and non-judgmentally.

DO let him/her know you are concerned about his/her 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 they are not a danger to themselves (e.g., sexual assault, recent loss).

DO refer an individual to an appropriate campus or community resource for support related to personal or academic issues.  When in doubt, call the Dean of Students.

The DON’Ts

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.

If you feel threatened, concerned for your safety, or concerned for the safety of others, call 911.

In circumstances where individuals may benefit from counseling and psychological services and additional support, and there is not concern for the individual’s safety or the safety of others, urge the person to seek professional help, and suggest the following:

Kent State University Students may contact:
  • Counseling and Psychological Services 330-672-2487

Services provided are confidential and do not affect academic records.

Kent State University Staff or Faculty may contact:
  • IMPACT Employee Assistance and Work/Life Program 24-hours a day 800-227-6007

In rare situations, if you feel that an individual is an absolute threat/risk to harm their lives or others, or you are unsure about the safety of an individual, you can contact Kent State Police Services for a “wellness check.”  Kent State Police Services are trained in mental health crisis intervention and will have the individual transported to the nearest emergency department or to Coleman Access for an emergency evaluation, if appropriate.