How to Help Students in Distress
We offer Consultation and Training
Faculty, staff, and student leaders may at times need to help Tufts students manage the stress of college life. We provide consultation and training to faculty, staff, student leaders, and campus groups and organizations so that those who work with and support Tufts students can feel reasonably knowledgeable and confident. Please contact us at 617-627-3360 if you want to consult about a student or explore the possibility of a training workshop for your department, office, or campus organization.
Concerned about a Student?
As a member of a university community, there are likely to be times when you feel concerned about a student or friend at Tufts. The following guidelines can help you know when to be concerned and how to approach the student:
When to Be Concerned
Everyone experiences distress sometimes. Many people may experience one of these signs at different times and are not necessarily in severe distress. However, when someone is experiencing several of these signs—or if they persist—then it may indicate more severe difficulties that warrant professional help.
- Deterioration of physical appearance or personal hygiene
- Excessive fatigue or sleep difficulties
- Skipping class or absence from other activities
- Difficulty completing schoolwork or other obligations
- Avoidance of friends or uncharacteristic social isolation
- Marked decrease in concentration, motivation, or energy
- Visible increase or decrease in weight
- Looking sad, worried, or preoccupied
- Irritability or temper outbursts
- Direct statements about problems with family and friends
- Excessive substance use
- Statements of hopelessness or comments about death, self-harm, or suicide
It's Okay to Ask
When you are concerned about a student or peer, you might hesitate to inquire further about their well-being because you worry that it’s an invasion of privacy or that bringing it up will somehow make the situation worse. However, if you are worried about someone, it is usually best to express genuine concern and interest. Questions coming from a place of concern are most often experienced as caring and may be the opening a student or friend needs to talk about what is bothering them.
How to Approach
- Choose a time and a place that is private. Ask how your student or peer is doing using a caring tone and making eye contact. Share the things that you have noticed that have led to your concern. If they are not interested in talking, let them know that you are available if they would like to talk another time. You can also remind them that there are many resources on campus if they want help at any point.
- When someone wants to talk, the most important thing you can do is to listen. Just by being open, interested, and supportive, you are providing important assistance. You don’t need to be an expert or to give advice—sometimes just talking is enough to help someone feel relief. However, if there are more serious concerns or you feel your student or peer should seek professional help, encourage them to do so. Let them know that getting help is a sign of strength and hope, and be aware that you may need to repeat this message from time to time.
- Don't get sworn to secrecy, and avoid making blanket promises of confidentiality that might make it harder for you to share your concerns with someone else if needed. If your student or friend is at risk, their safety must be the primary concern, and it is important that you seek professional assistance right away. Explain that you are doing so out of concern.
- Seek professional assistance when needed. CMHS is open from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Our telephone number is 617-627-3360. When the office is closed, a clinician is always available for mental health emergencies. After hours, you can call our number at 617-627-3360 and follow the prompts to speak to the counselor on-call.
Take Care of Yourself, Too
Caring about and helping others is important, but it is also important to take care of yourself as well. If you start to feel too burdened, overwhelmed, or concerned about a student or peer, it’s time to seek support. Call CMHS and ask to speak to a counselor for consultation.
Half of Us – An award-winning program featuring a library of free-for-use videos
Kognito – An online educational program designed to educate faculty, staff, and students about mental health
How to Help Students in Distress: A guide for Tufts Faculty, Staff, and Student Leaders
Emergencies During Regular Office Hours (9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday - Friday)
Contact emergency services through the CMHS front office at 617-627-3360.
After-Hours Emergencies (5 p.m. to 9 a.m. and on weekends)
For mental health crises, the after-hours Counselor on Call can be reached by dialing CMHS at 617-627-3360 and following the prompts. For more information, please visit our Mental Health Emergencies page.