Helping someone in distress

A quick guide

RECOGNIZE unusual behaviour

An eye.

Do you see any behaviour that may be out of character or unusual for someone? Early intervention plays a key role in supporting mental health challenges.

RESPOND with concern and empathy

A speech balloon

Non-judgmental and supportive language includes:
“I have noticed...”
“I am concerned...”
“I hear what you are saying...”
“How can I help you to...”

REFER the person to available resources

A telephone.

Non-judgmental and supportive language includes:
“What do you need in order to...”
“Can I suggest...”
“uOttawa Wellness website has lots of resources. Let's look at it together...”




Behaviour that is violent, destructive, harmful, aggressive or threatening to self or others. This is an emergency.

Changes in personal appearance and hygiene, low mood, avoidance of people, substance use concerns, disorganized thinking, expressions of hopelessness, or references to suicide.

Difficulty with studies, family or relationship problems, chronic health conditions, difficulty concentrating, issues with sleep, increased interpersonal conflict.

uOttawa Protection Services, 24/7:



Off Campus Emergency Services, 24/7:


Students, (Good2talk), 24/7:



Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), 24/7:


Original concept for this document courtesy of University of British Columbia Vancouver campus.  

Want more tips on how to help?

Assisting faculty and staff

We advise you to download this to learn for which signs to watch and the appropriate way to approach employees in distress. The guide can be helpful to anyone wanting to help someone in distress, whether they be a friend, a family member, or a colleague.

Assisting faculty and staff in distress (PDF)

Training options

  • Explore More Feet On The Ground, a mental health education partnership program and website aimed at helping the staff and students of Ontario universities  “recognize, respond and refer students experiencing mental health issues on campus”. Anyone - students, staff, professors, family, etc. - can access the website and learn more on these topics.
  • Discover other options on our Training page.

Printable version

Want to have this guide on hand? Download our printer-friendly PDF version.

Back to top