Given your relationship, you may be the first person to recognize signs of emotional distress with a friend, or they may turn to you first for support. We recognize that it is difficult to see someone you care about struggle and that there can be uncertainty about what to do. The Counseling Services office is always available for consultation in these situations. We can talk through your concerns and help with developing a plan for moving forward. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for support.
Regardless of whether or not you consult with our office, there are some important things to keep in mind regarding your role as a friend in these situations. Simply noticing, connecting with, and encouraging your friend to seek additional support can be tremendously important. You don’t need to be a mental health expert, or have experience dealing with mental health concerns to be helpful. You only need to know how to do a few very simple, but extremely valuable things to make a difference.
Below is some helpful information about the warning signs of emotional distress and strategies for how to connect and be supportive.
Signs of Distress
Every student experiences some level of distress while at Colby…some problematic, some not. Concern arises when that level of distress begins to impact their academics, interpersonal relationships, physical health and safety, and day-to-day functioning. While not exhaustive, here is a list of some of the more common warning signs of problematic levels of distress:
- Withdrawing from activities, including social
- Skipping classes and not turning in assignments
- Significant changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Substance abuse
- Depressed mood
- Chronically elevated anxiety/stress
- Hopeless and/or negative comments
- Irritability and/or angry outbursts
- Impulsive or dangerous behaviors
- Engaging in self-injury
- Comments about suicide or suicide gestures or attempts
*Listen to your gut…if you are at all concerned, check in!
*As stated above, if you are uncertain if you should be concerned, or are unsure about how to respond, please contact the Counseling Services office to CONSULT.
Strategies for Checking In
We know it can be uncomfortable to approach a friend who is struggling emotionally. We can’t always predict how they will respond and recognize that they could become defensive, or deny there are concerns. Most friends will respond with openness and appreciation. However, if they minimize, become defensive, or reject your offer of support, that’s ok. They have heard you at some level and that is an important first step.
Additionally, don’t worry about saying things perfectly or having to fix their problems. Remember, your role is not that of a counselor. It’s all about you connecting with your friend, expressing your care and concern, and directing them to the appropriate support services on campus. Here are some helpful strategies for checking in:
- Find a comfortable and private place to check in and ask if it is OK to talk
- Be direct about your concerns and the observations and/or information behind them
- Be a good listener and check your understanding of what they share
- Ask how you can be helpful
- If you believe counseling, or some other supportive resource (see list below) would be helpful, make the referral and encourage them to follow through
- If they are open to counseling, but you worry about them taking the step, offer to help them make the appointment while they are sitting with you
- If they have made hopeless comments that lead to you being concerned about their safety, or have made direct statements about suicide, contact our office immediately at 859-4490. If it is after hours, or on a weekend, call the same number and hit “0” to be connected with our on-call counselor who is available to help 24 hours/day, 7 days/week. You should not be in a position of determining whether or not your friend is safe in this situation. Please allow a trained mental health professional to determine the level of risk.
Important Campus Support Resources
- Counseling Services: 859-4490
- Health Services: 859-4460
- Campus Security: 859-5911
- Dean of Students Office: 859-4250
- Gender and Sexual Diversity Program: 859-4093
- Religious and Spiritual Life: 859-4271