Whether you are a concerned friend, parent, faculty, or staff member, you may be uncertain how to help a student with common mental health problems. Below are some general dos and don'ts for helping students with specific issues.
Depression/Anxiety/Thoughts of Suicide
- Don’t expect the student to "snap out of it" or blame him/her for their feelings.
- Don’t say or do anything that might worsen the student's poor self-image.
- Don’t ignore the student's talk of suicide.
- Do try to maintain a normal relationship with the student as much as possible.
- Do help keep the student active and busy.
- Do take talk of suicide seriously and get help for both yourself and the student.
Self-Injurious Behavior (e.g., cutting)
- Don’t avoid the subject of self-injury.
- Don’t focus on the injuries beyond encouraging first aid and/or medical care.
- Don’t push for information if the student does not feel comfortable talking to you.
- Do focus on the student’s emotional experience and offer to listen.
- Do reassure the student that s/he is not "crazy."
- Do consult with others as needed to ensure the student's safety.
- Don’t blame the student for what happened.
- Don’t ask the student "why" questions.
- Don’t point out any errors in judgment which the student may have made.
- Do tell the student you believe her/him and that you know it was not her/his fault.
- Do let the student decide on their own what course of action s/he wants to take after making her/him aware of options.
Eating Disorders/Body Image
- Don’t try to monitor the student’s eating habits.
- Don’t try to force the student to eat.
- Don’t agree to keep the problem a secret when the student’s health is at risk.
- Do offer the student your emotional support; reach out to the student when s/he seems upset.
- Do try to avoid focusing on the student’s appearance, weight, and eating habits.
- Don't make accusations or use labels such as "alcoholic."
- Don’t get discouraged if the student gets angry and/or denies the problem.
- Don’t be afraid to try to confront again later.
- Do be specific about how the student’s substance use upsets you.
- Do explain how the student’s substance use affects your relationship.
- Do let the student know that you care.
For help talking to a friend, try these Conversation Starters from Seize the Awkward or use Kognito, a free online interactive course to help you practice difficult conversations (see below; both student and faculty/staff versions are available).
If you need additional information about any of the above issues, please do not hesitate to call Counseling Services at 585-245-5716 to consult with a member of our professional staff.