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Responding to Persons in Distress


Many times you may be working with a person who is distressed and it can be difficult to assess what route to take with the person and who to contact about the situation. We have created the Distressed Person Response Guide for both campuses and learning centers that can assist in working with the person.

Working with Troubled Persons

As a staff member or faculty member, you are in a good position to spot someone who may be emotionally distressed. While some of this is to be expected, especially during stressful times of the year, you might notice someone acting in a way that is inconsistent with your normal experiences with that person. You may be able to be a resource in times of trouble and your expression of interest and concern may be a critical factor in helping the individual reestablish emotional equilibrium.

Possible Signs of Distress

  • Marked change in academic behavior
  • Has trouble eating or sleeping
  • Engages in disruptive behavior
  • Has frequent conflict with others
  • Expresses intent of harm to self or others
  • Indicates others are planning to harm him/her
  • Exaggerated emotional response that is obviously inappropriate to the situation
  • Undue aggressiveness, agitated or extremely upset
  • Expresses anger or revenge
  • Depressed or lethargic mood
  • Excessive confusion
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Dependency (individual hangs around or makes excessive appointments to see you)
  • Strange or bizarre behavior indicating loss of contact with reality
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Isolation from friends, family, or classmates
  • Gives away prized possessions
  • Prepares for death by making a will and final arrangements

The Do’s in Helping a Distressed Person:

  • DO speak with the person privately
  • DO let him or her know you are concerned about his or her welfare
  • DO express your concern in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms
  • DO tell him or her you are willing to help
  • DO listen carefully to what he or she is troubled about
  • DO help him or her explore options
  • DO suggest resources
  • DO make a referral to the appropriate campus department
  • DO point out that help is available and seeking such help is a sign of strength and courage
  • DO respect the person’s value system
  • DO maintain clear and consistent boundaries and expectations
  • DO recognize your limits
  • DO document the interactions with the person

The Don’ts in Helping a Distressed Person:

  • DON’T promise confidentiality
  • DON’T judge or criticize
  • DON’T ignore the unusual behavior
  • DON’T make the problems your own
  • DON’T involve yourself beyond the limits of your time or skill