Any one of the following symptoms does not absolutely indicate serious distress. However, several signs and changes, which may be extreme or sudden, may point to potential mental health concerns.
Signs and Symptoms
Check in with your friend if you notice changes in any of the following:
- Emotional control
- Interactions with others
- Tired appearance
- Appetite/weight changes
- Isolation from friends/family
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Level of substance use
You are not obligated to keep secrets if it compromises safety. Trust your instincts if you sense your friend might be a harm to themselves or others and make sure you connect with someone who can help.
If you notice any of these signs or changes, the next step is to let your friend know that
you are there for them and would like to support them. Try to find a time when your friend is available and comfortable, and be sure to find a private location.
Try to give your friend tangible examples, and if observing general personal changes,
be gentle and explain why you are concerned.
- “I’ve noticed you haven’t been coming to the Caf lately and I am concerned because you usually love our group dinners.”
- “I’ve noticed you have been quiet when we hang out, is everything okay?”
- “When you said _____, I thought that didn’t sound like you and I’m concerned.”
Validate what your friend is going through. It is also okay for you to be nosy – probe
your friend and show you are interested by asking questions.
- “I cannot imagine what you are going through, but I am here for you.”
- “What else?”
- “It sounds like you are frustrated with _____________, is that right?”
- “I’m sorry you’re going through this. This sounds really tough.”
- “Thank you for telling me.”
- “You are not alone – many people experience these same problems. We can figure out how you are going to get through this.”
You can act as a resource to your friend by connecting them with professional or peer support when more help is needed. Always allow your friend to choose and empower them to help themselves.
- “This is serious and important – which is why we need extra help”
- “What do you need right now?”
- “I can recommend a few resources that others have used which would be helpful”
Your friend may not want to talk, or may not access the resources that you suggest. It is important to respect their decision and point out that you are happy with whatever they decide. Listen when they are ready. The only exception to this is when the situation is an emergency.
Your own safety and well-being are as important as that of the person in distress. Recognizing the limits of what you can do is an important part of taking care of yourself and your friend.
- Be honest with yourself about how much time and effort you are able to spend helping.
- Reflect on your own needs and seek support for yourself.
- Realize you cannot control how your friend will respond or make decisions for them.
Reach out for help for yourself if you experience any of the following as a result of helping:
- Your grades are impacted
- You are sleep deprived
- Your thoughts are distracted
- You feel overly depended-on by your friend
You aren’t alone and you don’t need to have all the answers!
If you need more help, you can contact:
- Student Care and Support 613-520-2600 ext. 1358
- Counselling Services 613-520-6674 (press 2)
- Good2Talk: 1-866-925-5454
- The Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region: 613-722-6914
How to Refer a Student
University life can be quite busy and stressful at times. Your friend may be showing some signs of distress that are concerning but they are able to identify and use healthy coping strategies. They are not at risk of harm to self or others.
They may be experiencing:
- Academic concerns
- Financial problems
- Social difficulties
- Health or personal problems
- Mild sadness or anxiety
- Lack of support
It can be helpful to connect your friend to the variety of support offered on campus. They may not be aware of all of the campus resources or may need help reaching out.
Your friend’s usual coping strategies are no longer working. You may notice the signs of distress are more intense and they are having a difficult time functioning. They are not at risk of harm to self or others but professional support may be helpful at this time.
They may be experiencing:
- Recent traumatic experience
- Deteriorating mental health
- Serious emotional difficulties
- Bullying or harassment
- Lack of food/essentials
- Prolonged illness or injury
- Counselling Services: 613-520-6674 (press 2)
- Residence Counselling: 613-520-2600 ext. 8061
- Sexual Assault Support Services: 613-520-5622
- Empower Me (undergraduate students): 1-833-628-5589 (toll-free)
Your friend is actively planning suicide or talking about suicide. They pose an immediate threat of harm to self or others, or the situation feels unsafe.
You see or hear:
Direct or indirect reference to suicide.
- “I just want the pain to end.”
- “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
- “I just need to end it all.”
Threatening, violent or destructive behaviour.
Immediate action is required.
4444 (from any on-campus phone)
(Notify Campus Safety Services)