Helping a Friend in Distress

University students often experience a great amount of stress during the course of their academic experiences. While most students cope successfully with the challenges these years bring, some students find the various pressures of life unmanageable or unbearable. Many of these distressed students have not sought counseling and may be unaware of the services available to them.

You may encounter a friend in distress and your role could be a positive and crucial one in assisting him/her to find the resources available to help himself/herself. The following guidelines may be useful. (If you are a faculty or staff member, follow this link for information on how to help a distressed student: Resources for Faculty & Staff)

Common Signs of Distress
The following signs may indicate a need to refer a student to the Counseling & Testing Center:

  •  Abrupt/radical changes in behavior
  •  Isolation from others
  •  Feeling blue for more than a short period of time
  •  Poor class attendance
  •  Inappropriate crying
  •  Paranoid state
  •  Drug & alcohol abuse
  •  Chronic fatigue/low energy
  •  Uncontrollable or sudden outbursts of anger
  •  Attention/memory difficulties
  •  Irritability or restlessness
  •  Threatening bodily injury or harm to others
  •  Mood or behavior change following a traumatic change in a relationship, such a divorce or death
  •  Statements reflecting a sense of worthlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness
  •  Suicidal thoughts or feelings

The counseling staff at the Counseling & Testing Center can also assist students that are struggling with:

  •  Social/personal concerns
  •  Career choices/selecting a major
  •  Substance use
  •  Sexual assault
  •  Relationship concerns
  •  Racial/cultural adjustment
  •  Extreme test/performance anxiety

Suggested Guidelines for Interaction

  •  Talk to the student in private
  •  Listen carefully
  •  Show concern and interest
  •  Repeat back the essence of what the student has told you
  •  Avoid criticizing or sounding judgmental
  •  Suggest the Counseling & Testing Center as a resource and discuss this with the student
  •  Explain to the student that counseling at the Counseling & Testing Center is free and confidential
  •  If the student wishes, you may accompany him/her to the Counseling & Testing Center
  •  If the student resists help and you are still worried, contact your residence hall dean or the Counseling & Testing Center to discuss your concerns
  •  If the student is suicidal, call the Counseling & Testing Center (269-471-3470), Campus Safety (269-471-3321), or 911. If this occurs after business hours, please call Campus Safety (269-471-3321) or 911.

Some suggested ways to recommend counseling are:

  • "You seem very upset; perhaps it might be helpful to speak to someone. There are counselors available to students at the Counseling & Testing Center."
  • "Counseling is helpful for people who feel the way you do. If you would like, you may use my telephone right now to call the Counseling & Testing Center to find out how you make an appointment. If you would like, I'd be glad to walk over with you now to find out about speaking with a counselor."
  • "You don't have to continue feeling so depressed (anxious, isolated, stressed out, angry, etc). Counseling can help. Why don't you walk to (or call) the Counseling & Testing Center (located in Bell Hall #123) and make an appointment to speak with a counselor?"

Feel free to use, amend or expand on any of the recommendations above. The most important thing is to present your concern in such a way as to enable the student to freely accept, consider or refuse your recommendation. Some people need time in order to think over the decision to seek counseling. A caring and gentle suggestion is usually enough. If a student says emphatically no, then it is important to respect and accept that decision and to perhaps leave the door open for alternative consideration. If a distressed student resists help and/or you are still worried, you may contact the Counseling & Testing Center to discuss your concerns and how to best assist him/her.

However, if you consider the situation to be an emergency, call Campus Safety (269-471-3321) or dial 911. Do not delay getting help for the student and making sure you are both safe.


Consultation With Center Staff: Ask for a Counselor

If you are unsure about how to respond to your friend, consult with one of the professional staff at the Counseling & Testing Center. A counselor can help you explore how to approach your friend, assist you in identifying campus and community resources that might fit his/her needs, and provide coaching on how to make a referral. Counselors are available during business hours for phone or in-person consultations at the CTC. You can call the front desk (269-471-3470) to schedule a phone consult or to arrange a meeting at the counselor’s office.


Making a Referral to the Counseling Center  

  1. Suggest that the student call or come in to the Counseling & Testing Center (CTC) to make an appointment. Give the CTC phone number and location (269-471-3470; Bell Hall #123). You may also suggest that the students visit our website (
  2. If you wish, you can ask your friend if you can call the CTC for him/her. You can initiate the call and then allow the student to make an appointment to speak with a counselor. Make sure your friend writes down the appointment time and date. 
  3. Sometimes it is helpful for you to accompany your friend to the CTC. Some students may find it comforting for you to wait while they meet with a counselor.
  4. Follow up with your friend by inquiring as to whether he/she kept his/her appointment and how he/she felt about the session.
  5. If you are concerned about a student, but are uncertain of the appropriateness of the referral, or the student resists a referral, feel free to call the CTC for a consultation.
  6. If you consider the situation to be an emergency, call Campus Safety (269-471-3321) or dial 911 before contacting the CTC. Do not delay getting help for the student's and your safety.

What is Counseling?

"Professional counseling is the application of mental health, psychological or human development principles, through cognitive, affective, behavioral, or systemic interventions and strategies that address wellness, personal growth, or career development, as well as pathology" (American Counseling Association). Counseling is a collaborative effort between the counselor and client. A counselor can assist students to identify goals and potential solutions to problems which cause emotional imbalance, to improve communication and coping skills, to strengthen self-esteem, and to promote behavior change and optimal mental health. Together, a counselor and a student will set goals, work towards achieving them, and assess progress. Counseling can help students maximize their potential and make positive changes in their lives. Counseling may be hard work at times, but change and progress do happen. A counselor can provide the help and support to a student may need to master the challenges of life. We offer short-term individual and couples counseling. We also offer group counseling during the school year. 

The three most frequent reasons people come to counseling are:

  • Crisis resolution—regarding the loss of a relationship, death in the family, stress overload, loneliness, psychosomatic problems, coping with changes, family crisis, etc.
  • Seeking relief from chronic problems like depression, parent/child or child/parent problems, unhappy relationships, eating disorders, drug abuse, the pressures of work or classes, anger, or self-defeating behavior
  • For personal growth by increasing self-confidence, improving self-esteem, enriching personal relationships, and enhancing self-understanding

Most individuals who seek counseling are quite normal people who want to do something about their problems. Since EVERYONE has significant problems at various points in life, counseling can be a normal part of the process of coping with them and finding ways to move beyond them towards further growth and meaning in life.

Additional Campus and Community Resources to Consider

Campus Safety: 269-471-3321
University Student Intervention Team (USIT): 269-471-3321;
Dean for Student Life: 269-471-3215
Student Success Center: 269-471-6096
Campus Ministries: 269-471-3211;
University Medical Specialties: 269-473-2222
Berrien County Victim Assistance: 269-982-8640
Neighbor to Neighbor (Adventist Community Services): 269-471-7411
Riverwood Center’s 24 Hour Crisis Hotline: 800-336-0341