Students in distress are among those in our community who need and can greatly benefit from various forms of personal help. These students’ distress also poses a challenge for those who wish to help the student. Clearly, mental health professionals, school administrators, and security personnel are active participants in university communities. However, these specifically trained individuals are not always present when a distressing situation occurs, for example in a dining hall, classroom, residence hall, or other campus location. It is therefore important that all community members have a basic understanding of how they can best help a student in distress.
When someone in our community concerns us, it is important that we know how to offer that person a helping hand. The Counseling Center can advise you through the various ways to engage distressed members of the community. Here are some basic ideas to keep in mind when engaging with a student in distress:
- Keep it simple. Be clear, concise, and direct in your communication. You do not have to be a mental health professional to help. After your initial consultation, contact the Counseling Center for further advice if necessary.
- Hear the problem. Issues that cause enough distress to raise the concerns of others are rarely “trivial.” Indeed, for the person in distress, small matters can loom very large. Listening to a person non-judgmentally can be an important part of helping.
- Be honest. It is important to share your concern. It is usually best to discuss your concern directly, without judgment or fear. This often provides an opportunity to connect the individual with further resources.
- Ask to help. Invite the student to continue the conversation and to ask for help from others. A respectful, collaborative approach can be a meaningful experience for someone in distress.
- Follow Up. If appropriate and if there is no threat to you, stay involved and in communication with both the student and any mental health professionals with whom you have consulted. “Continuity of care” is extremely beneficial for all involved: the student, the mental health professional, and you.
If you would like to speak to someone about a situation you've encountered, please call the Counseling Center at 217-333-3704.
If there's an emergency situation during business hours, please call the Counseling Center at 217-333-3704 or the McKinley Mental Health Department at 217-333-2705 to arrange the appropriate appointment or gathering of information. When contacting either department, it will be helpful to declare this is an emergency and that the student needs to be seen right away. If the emergency occurs after business hours or the student won’t see a counselor, can’t be found, or refuses contact with others, call 911.
For more information, please refer to our Helping Distressed and Distressing Students brochure.