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Helping Others

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.

Rape/Sexual Assault

  • 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.

Alcohol/Substance Abuse

  •  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.

Additional Information

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.