How to Help Someone in Distress

Boston University’s Charles River campus at night

When To Be Concerned

Life at Boston University, with its high standards for excellence in every arena, can be stressful for students, faculty, and staff. Many of us thrive on the challenges of such a stimulating environment,  but at times, we all can become tired, irritable, overwhelmed, anxious, demoralized, or depressed. We have seen in our society that there can be tragic results when a person, often owing to underlying psychological problems, feels pushed beyond his or her ability to tolerate the stresses of life.

When is it reasonable, even crucial, to suggest that someone speak with a medical professional? The initial decision to direct someone to Student Health Services is often the hardest. Yet identifying and referring a person in distress is vital, even though it is often difficult to make such a ersonal suggestion. Taking this step can save a life, can perhaps save many lives. It is a positive and life-affirming step to take.

Signs and symptoms of psychological distress:

  • excessive anxiety or panic
  • marked decline in academic work or job performance
  • frequent absence from class or work, especially when this is a change
  • apathy, lack of energy, change in sleeping or eating habits, or dramatic weight gain or loss
  • marked changes in personal hygiene, work habits, or social behavior mood elevation isolation or withdrawal
  • overtly suicidal thoughts, such as referring to suicide as a current option
  • giving away treasured personal possessions
  • increased irritability or aggressive behavior
  • bizarre thinking, seemingly at odds with the reality of the situation (such as apparently paranoid ideas)
  • excessive use of alcohol or other drugs