If You’re Concerned About Someone

We know it can be uncomfortable to approach someone who is struggling emotionally, in person or at a distance. We can’t always predict how they will respond and recognize that they could become defensive or deny there are concerns. Most will respond with openness and appreciation. However, if they minimize, become defensive, or reject your offer of support, that’s okay. They have heard you at some level and that is an important first step.

How to Approach Someone

    Given your relationship with your friend, you may be the first person to recognize signs of emotional distress, 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. We’re 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 in these situations. Simply noticing, connecting with, and encouraging the person to seek additional support can be tremendously important.

    As a faculty or staff member, your role and visibility on campus places you in a unique position to recognize signs of distress and provide assistance to a student who is struggling with emotional health concerns. The struggling student may turn to you first, or you may be the first to notice they are having difficulty. Don’t underestimate the importance of your role in supporting a student, no matter how small you imagine that role to be. Simply noticing, connecting with, and referring the student to the support resources that exist in our office and across campus can make a tremendous difference in that student’s life and ability to be successful at Colby.

    It can be difficult for parents and other family members to be away from their student, whether that means just down the interstate or a 20-plus-hour flight away. It can be particularly difficult when your son or daughter is struggling emotionally and all you want to do is be there to comfort and support them. This is normal and we have heard these feelings expressed many times by parents over the years. While we understand and appreciate these feelings, the goal is for us to work together to facilitate your student seeking the help and support they need on campus.

    First and foremost, it is important for concerned others, including parents, to be honest and direct about their concerns. A common worry is that talking about difficult topics might “plant a seed” and should be avoided. We find that if you are noticing signs that your student is struggling, it is best to communicate what you are observing right away.

    Start the conversation around the importance of addressing the concerns before they become more entrenched and difficult to manage. Early intervention improves outcomes and helps to limit the impact on a student’s academic performance and overall health.

    Strategies for Checking In

    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
    • Ensure you won’t be hurried
    • 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 that 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 a concern about their safety, or have made direct statements about suicide, contact our office immediately at 207-859-4490. 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, seven days/week. You should not be in a position of determining whether or not a person is safe. Please allow a trained mental health professional to determine the level of risk.

    You don’t need to be a mental health expert, or have experience dealing with mental health concerns—you only need to know how to do a few very simple, but extremely valuable, things to make a difference in someone’s situation. Here is helpful information about the warning signs of emotional distress and strategies for how to respond.

    Listen to your gut: If you are at all concerned, check in. If you are uncertain if you should be concerned, or are unsure about how to respond, please consult with Counseling Services at 207-859-4490 or counseling@colby.edu.

    Confidentiality

    It is common to want to know if a student has followed through with a referral to counseling or sought counseling here on their own. We understand this desire to know and encourage you to check in directly with them, which both confirms that they did or didn’t and communicates further your level of care and concern for them.

    Furthermore, if you did make the referral to our office, and/or we believe it would be helpful to have contact with you, we will talk with them about signing a release of information allowing us to communicate with you.

    Please remember that the student/client holds the privilege, meaning that outside of immediate concerns for their safety or the safety of others, we can’t communicate with anyone outside our office about the student without their consent, including a simple confirmation around whether or not they have been in to see us.

    Important Campus Support Resources

    • Counseling Services: 207-859-4490
    • Health Services: 207-859-4460
    • Campus Security: 207-859-5911
    • Dean of Students Office: 207-859-4250
    • Gender and Sexual Diversity Program: 207-859-4093
    • Religious and Spiritual Life: 207-859-4271