Counseling Center

Helping a Friend in Distress

People react to upsetting life events in different ways.  Below are some common signs of distress, which if persistent, may suggest that an individual needs additional support or professional help.

  • Significant changes in eating, sleeping, spending, self-care habits; changes in performance or involvement in academics, sports, extracurricular or social activities
  • Acting significantly withdrawn, angry, volatile or tearful-whether sober or not
  • Talking explicitly about hopelessness or suicide
  • Being unable to control emotions, thoughts or behaviors
  • Excessive or increased use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Excessive dependence on others for company or emotional support

If you are concerned: 

  • Speak directly to your friend about your concerns. People in distress are almost always receptive to an expression of genuine interest, caring, and concern. 

  • Be specific about the behaviors you've observed that have prompted your concern (e.g., falling grades, drinking too much, crying a lot, withdrawing from friends, statements about suicide, etc.). Clearly stating your observations makes it more difficult for the student to deny that a problem exists and also lets the person know that you care enough to notice.  Avoid labeling the behavior, e.g., "I think you are depressed."

  • Let the student know that EC counseling is free, voluntary, and confidential.

  • Help the student in making an appointmentAlthough students have to make their own appointments, often friends, staff, or faculty have walked over to the Counseling Center when that level of support has been necessary.  Alternatively, you can look at our website with your friend and encourage them to take advantage of a helpful and free service.  Frame the decision to seek counseling as a mature choice that shows the individual is able to confront and deal with problems.  If the student's concerns are urgent or life-threatening, the Counseling Center has an emergency walk-in hour Mon-Fri from 3:00-4:00.  For after-hours concerns, click here 

  • Take seriously any talk or mention of suicide or harm to others.  Do not assume that the person is joking or just seeking attention.  Similarly, do not assume that you can solve or help on your own.  Seek professional help.  

  • Recognize your own limits. It is not your responsibility to solve another person's problems.  Remember that there are caring professionals in the Counseling Center, Health Services, Residence Life,  Mission & Ministry as well as other offices who may be able to offer forms of help that you cannot and should not provide.

  • Do not make promises to keep the problem a secret.  It is understandable that someone in distress might ask you to keep private the information that they reveal.  But agreeing can create a difficult and stressful situation for you later.  Instead, promise your friend that you:
    • Are trustworthy and care about their well-being
    • Will not divulge information given in confidence unless you have no other choice and only to help them.  You will do everything possible to safeguard their situation.
    • Will let them know if you are compelled to share the situation with a professional.

  • Contact the Counseling Center (ADM 151; 617 735-9920) if you would like to discuss how to most effectively support your friend. We offer consultation to students and friends who are concerned about the well-being of other students.