UT Tyler Student Counseling Center

How to Help a Distressed Friend

Student Counseling Center

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

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

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.
  • For a close friend, it's okay to ask if the person would like a hug.  Otherwise, be careful with physical boundaries; a gentle touch on the arm/shoulder typically feels supportive and non-threatening to most people.
  • If the individual is crying, offer tissues.
  • Refer to follow-up services (counseling center, health clinic, or local hospital).

Things to Say:

  • Where were you when you heard?
  • What information do you have at this point?
  • Have you talked to anyone else who is affected?
  • 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? (This question is especially ill-advised if the friend/student is visibly upset.)
  • 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. 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 - especially with the proper support - people can usually work through these challenges.

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, but be careful to maintain boundaries; ask before offering a hug..
  • Tissues - Need to be readily available.
  • Telephones - Assist individuals in contacting family, counseling, clergy, etc.


For consultation with a licensed professional counselor call the Student Counseling Center at 903.565.5746.