Supporting a Person in Distress

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Most of us have complex lives with competing demands and priorities. No matter how strong our coping skills are, there are days when the pressure and challenges are just bigger than our skills. Those moments of overwhelm can lead to feelings of distress. There are many reasons why colleagues or students might be having a difficult time. It is likely that at some point each of us will be called upon to support someone in distress.  

It can take great courage to ask for help. When someone reaches out to us for support, how we respond can make a significant impact. If you think of a moment in your own life when you were experiencing distress, you can likely identify amazing people who responded in helpful ways and made the situation more manageable. They may have done something simple like just listened as you shared, they may have taken action to connect you with resources, or they may have provided options that gave you the flexibility you needed to successfully navigate the situation. It is equally likely that you can identify people that responded in ways that were not helpful. 

Yet, for many of us, responding to someone in need of support can feel awkward and uncomfortable. The most common reason given for not responding or supporting someone is that people didn’t know what to do or say. 

At the simplest level, supporting someone in distress has three basic steps: 

  1. Recognize the signs and indicators of distress 

  1. Respond to the person in a way that is appropriate to the situation at hand and the existing relationship you have with the person 

  1. Refer or connect the person to the appropriate resources so they can access the services available 

Of course, what to say and where to connect people can be complicated. Fortunately, there are several resources and workshops both on and off campus that can help.  

In Fall 2023, Counselling Services launched a new tool for identifying and responding to students in distress. These steps are also suitable for use with colleagues, family, and friends. In addition, Campus Wellness is offering a workshop on Tuesday, February 27, 2024, from 1:30pm – 4:00pm (EST) over Microsoft Teams. Register on Portal.

If you are looking for more information on supporting people in distress, the following resources might be helpful. 

  • Take Steps to Respond: Thrive site from Campus Wellness that provides a good overview of each of the steps listed above. 

  • Supporting and Referring Students: The FoE Wellness programs resource page on supporting and referring students to resources. 

  • Supporting Others: The FoE Wellness on supporting a person in distress 

  • More Feet on the Ground: Free online workshop created by the Council of Ontario Universities to help individuals understand mental health on post-secondary campuses. 

Assistance being provided to the one's in need