How to Help a Distressed Friend

University Counseling Center

In a crisis situation, you may see a friend or student displaying the following symptoms:

  • Stunned, numb, confused
  • Bewildered
  • Impaired reasoning
  • Agitated
  • Perspiring
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak
  • Nauseous
  • Intense anxiety
  • Weeping
  • Screaming
  • Distracted
  • Stoic

People affected usually don't want to be regarded as "sick" or "crazy." They are simply having normal reactions to an abnormal event. The range of reactions will vary widely and they may also change over time.

What you can do:

  • Make personal contact.
  • Provide a place for people to gather and share information and support.
  • Help with physical comfort (offering water, hot drink, snacks, etc. can be nurturing and supportive).
  • Provide information if you have accurate sources. If possible help the individual get in touch with family.
  • Use appropriate touch (gentle holding, if appropriate).
  • Refer to follow-up services (counseling center, health center or local hospital).

Things to Say:

  • Where were you when you heard?
  • What have you heard recently?
  • How do you think others are doing?
  • Is there anything you need?
  • Do you wish to call someone?
  • I will stay with you.

Comments that are usually not helpful:

  • How are you feeling?
  • It could have been worse.
  • It is God's will.
  • There is a reason for this.
  • Don't cry.
  • Calm down.
  • I know how you feel.


What individuals need most is support and people to talk to and to be with. If you have concerns about longer term issues; remember that traumatic events can affect an individual's "world view." After the initial shock phase, they may wish to talk about how things are different. They may feel less safe and more vulnerable. The unpredictability of life can overwhelm and leave one feeling despondent or "what's the use." Individuals may want to reflect on life and what's important to them. This is challenging, even frightening, but with the proper support people can usually work things out.

Summary - T-Tips

  • Talk - Allow individuals to talk as needed. Stay engaged.
  • Tears - Accept tears as normal and provide comfort.
  • Touch - Appropriate touch is often more helpful than words.
  • Tissues - Need to be readily available.
  • Telephones - Assist individuals in contacting, family, clergy, etc.

For consultation with a licensed professional counselor contact:

The Student Counseling Center
University Center 3170


The 24/7 Crisis Line

UT Tyler