How to offer help

How do you respond to someone in distress?

When someone you know is in distress, it can be hard to know what to do. These guidelines can help.

If you don’t feel comfortable approaching someone, call our counsellors at 403.284.7666 or email us to talk about your concerns.

Offering help to someone in distress

You can help someone by observing their behaviour, approaching that person respectfully, listening to their concerns, supporting them, and referring them to other resources for help.

1. Observe

2. Approach

  • Make it private and respectful (provided you feel safe doing so)
  • Wait until the student is calm enough to communicate
  • Inquire – it is okay to approach someone and express concern
  • Be specific about the behaviour that is concerning you

3. Listen

  • Try to be open and non-judgmental

4. Support

  • Acknowledge the person’s thoughts and feelings
  • Offer hope and reassurance

5. Refer

  • Don’t get in over your head or become over-involved – enlist the help of a counsellor, supervisor, or other qualified resource
  • Don’t take responsibility for someone else’s actions and choices
  • Consult with a supervisor
  • Consult with the Counsellor
  • Provide the student with resources
  • Offer to accompany him/her to the appropriate student services personnel (if you feel comfortable doing so)

Making a good referral:

  • Identify your concern: “I’ve noticed that you have missed a few classes, which seems unlike you. I’m concerned. Is there anything I can do to help?” (NOTE: the help you will provide would not be to counsel the student; rather, it would be to listen long enough that they feel supported and then connect them to the appropriate resource)
  • Point out that help is available and that seeking help is a sign of strength and courage, not weakness. Normalize any resistance.
  • Invite, don’t mandate support: “Do you think it might help to talk to someone about this?” Rather than, “You need to talk to the Counsellor.”
  • Highlight the confidential nature of counselling
  • Remind them that counselling is not just for students with serious mental health issues and that students can benefit from even just a few sessions
  • Remind them that Counsellors can also make referrals to external agencies, if the student would prefer
  • Remind them that support services are free


  • Advising students on what they should do (unless within your role)
  • Minimizing: “it’s not that bad.”
  • Judging: “that is just silly.”
  • Diverting: “just try to focus on something else.”

Keep in mind

Except in rare circumstances when someone’s health or safety is in imminent danger, adults have a right to decline a referral to support. Try not to take it personally if the person you’re trying to help refuses support.

Take care of yourself, too

These kinds of situations are stressful for all involved, so ensure you’re taking care of yourself by consulting with colleagues, supervisors, our counsellors or resources from the EFAP program.

Check out additional mental health resources.