How to Help Someone in Distress

How You Can Help

Boston University’s Charles River campus at night

Some simple guidelines

An individual who is distressed often wants help but doesn’t know how to ask. You can play an essential role by expressing your concerns in a caring, nonjudgmental way.

  • Find a private, comfortable place to talk.
  • In your own words, explain your concerns.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Your friend may choose not to answer, but may feel relieved to know you are trying to understand.
  • Don’t feel compelled to find a solution. Often listening is enough.
  • Suggest that your friend can get more help if needed. You can give this brochure to your friend and point out the resources
    available at BU.
  • Know your own limits. If you find yourself thinking about your friend too much, it might help to speak with an RA or residence hall director, someone from Residence Life, a dean, or someone from Student Health Services. You don’t have to handle this alone; many people are here and available to help.

How to make a referral

  • Suggest that your friend make an appointment.
    • Student Health Services            617-353-3575
    • Behavioral Medicine                 617-353-3569
    Student Health Services are at 881 Commonwealth Avenue West. The telephones are answered 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
  • If necessary, you can help your friend make an appointment. Call while your friend is with you. Write down the appointment details, including time, provider’s name, and location.
  • If you think it is an emergency, call and say that your friend needs to be seen urgently. Stay on the line until you understand the
    specific steps you should take.

Services offered

BU Student Health Services offers help to all members of the BU student community. It does not matter what type of health insurance the student has. The Behavioral Medicine staff offers consultation, crisis intervention, and treatment, including individual therapy, groups, and medication. Staff members have expertise in special issues such as stress, isolation, academic pressure, issues of diversity, harassment, eating problems, substance abuse or dependence, and general problems of daily living.

The clinicians work closely with professionals in the outside community and sometimes refer an individual for specialized services or longer-term therapy. We also have close relationships with members of the greater Boston University community and can help people make useful connections.

When someone calls for an appointment, the secretary will ask if this is their first contact with the Behavioral Medicine service. The caller will be given the first available appointment, unless he or she needs to be seen more urgently or there is a problem requiring a specific staff person’s expertise. At times, a clinician may call to make further contact if more information is needed before the first appointment.   

All calls and visits are strictly confidential. The only exception is in situations of life-and-death emergency, when the most important consideration is ensuring the person’s safety.   


The Behavioral Medicine service provides 24-hour emergency coverage. Call BU Student Health Services at 617-353-3569 to reach the answering service. The clinician on call will be paged immediately.