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Recognizing and Responding to Distress

If you are concerned for the immediate safety of yourself and/or others, call 911.

Mental health issues are an increasing concern on our campuses, and this folder has been designed to assist you in supporting students, faculty or staff. You are vitally important in identifying and helping individuals in distress or those at risk for suicide. The information in this folder provides tools for you to recognize individuals in distress and connect them with appropriate resources. You strengthen our community by creating a network of support.

Quick Links
Indicators of Distressed Individuals
Responding Dos and Don’ts
Difference Between Dangerous and Distressed
What You Can Say
24-Hour Resources

Distressed Individuals

You may be one of the first people to notice that something is wrong. Although emotional distress may be expected, especially during times of high stress, you may notice that a person is acting out of character or in ways that are inconsistent with typical behavior. Often, a person’s behavior may cause you to feel worried. You may be a resource in times of difficulty, and your expression of concern may be critical in helping them regain emotional stability. You may also be in a good position to provide referrals and resources so that appropriate interventions can occur.

Indicators of Distress

Physical Indicators

  • Deteriorating hygiene
  • Excessive fatigue or irritability
  • Tearfulness
  • Slurred or hyperactive speech
  • Out of touch with reality
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Difficulty eating or sleeping
  • Disclosure of personal distress
  • Panic or anxiety attacks
  • Verbally abusive
  • Expressions of hopelessness
  • Concern from others
  • Depressed mood
  • Confusion

Academic/Occupational Indicators

  • Marked changes in behaviors
  • Undue aggressiveness
  • Exaggerated emotional response
  • Isolation from friends, family members or colleagues
  • Significant decline in performance
  • Repeated absences or tardiness
  • Overly demanding of attention
  • Disruptive behaviors

Responding Do’s and Don’ts

RESPONDING DOs

  • Call 911
  • Stay calm
  • Trust your intuition
  • Listen carefully
  • Take concerns seriously
  • Take your time
  • Know your limitations
  • Consult appropriately
  • Ask direct questions
  • Provide resources
  • Encourage person to access professional support

RESPONDING DON’Ts

  • Ignore the warning signs
  • Leave the person alone
  • Minimize the situation
  • Promise confidentiality
  • Judge or criticize
  • Make the problem your own
  • Involve yourself beyond your limits
  • Endanger yourself
  • Argue or try to change the individual’s emotions

Difference Between Distressed and Dangerous

Distressed

  • Anxious
  • Sad
  • Tearful
  • Withdrawn
  • Lacks motivation
  • Seeks frequent attention
  • Interactions feel more personal and less academic-focused

Dangerous

  • Behavior is potentially deadly
  • Conduct is imminently reckless
  • Behavior is dangerous to self/others
  • Verbal threats of violence
  • Intense anger
  • Intoxication
  • Intense withdrawal
  • Discusses weapons/lethal means

What You Can Say

Here are some examples of what you might say in a conversation with someone who may be distressed. Remember to use language that is natural to you and fits the context of the interaction.

SAY WHAT YOU SEE
• “I just wanted to check in. I’ve noticed ____________, and wanted to see if you want to talk about it.”
• “I’ve noticed ____________ and I want you to know I am here to support you.”
• “You seem upset today. What’s going on?”

SHOW YOU CARE
• “I care about your well-being, so I just wanted to check in to see how you are doing.”
• “Thanks for taking time to talk with me. I care about how you’re doing and want you to know I am here for support.”
• “How can I be helpful?”

HEAR THEM OUT
• Focus on active listening. Demonstrate you are paying attention with phrases like:
“Wow, I’d like to hear more about that.”
“What is that like for you?”
“That sounds really hard, how is that affecting your life?”

KNOW YOUR ROLE
• “I wonder if you may find it helpful to seek more specialized support.”
• “I would like to consult a professional to help me know how I can best help you.”

CONNECT TO HELP
• “I really think you may find ____________ to be a helpful resource.”
• “Reaching out to ____________ for the first time can be confusing. Would you like help connecting to .”
• “I really think ____________ can address your needs.”


24-Hour Resources

IF YOU ARE CONCERNED FOR YOUR IMMEDIATE SAFETY OR THE IMMEDIATE SAFETY OF OTHERS, CALL 911.

ResourcesPhoneWebsite
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-TALK (8255)suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Crisis Text LineText GA to 741741https://www.crisistextline.org/text-us/
Georgia Crisis Access Line1-800-715-4225www.georgiacollaborative.com/ providers/georgia-crisis-and-access-line-gcal
Veterans Crisis Line1-800-273-8255www.veteranscrisisline.net
The Trevor Project (For LGBTQ+ young people under 251-866-488-7386www.thetrevorproject.org
LGBT National Hotline (For LGBTQ+ of all ages, not 24 Hour)1-888-843-4564https://www.glbthotline.org/national-hotline.html
The Steve Fund Text Line (For young people of color)Text STEVE to 741741www.stevefund.org/crisistextline
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Additional Hotlines, not all 24 hour)www.namiga.org/resources/crisis-info-2

Last updated: 1/23/2021