How to Help - A Guide for Students
Point Park University network of support
Point Park University has several different departments and programs designed to help students maintain well-being and find support in times of challenge. This network is housed in departments throughout the university, including The Center for Student Success; Residential and Commuter Resources; Student Activities, Involvement and Leadership; Student Health Center; Campus Police; and the University Counseling Center. We ask you to be informed of the network of support and join us in helping students learn how to advocate for their needs and take initiative to seek help when needed - an important life skill.
Make note of changesAn important part of your experience at PPU is the relationships that you develop with your peers. Part of caring for peers is paying attention to how they are doing emotionally and physically.
Students and developing adults experience a range of emotions, including stress. It is important to be aware when someone is in distress, manifesting itself in ways that affect lifestyle or normal function.
Distress feels different for everybody. As a friend, you may notice when someone is in distress when you notice changes in their normal routine or way of thinking or feeling.
Here is a list of symptoms or changes you may observe. This list is not exhaustive but it can give you a good starting point on things to pay attention to:
- Sleep – difficulties falling asleep, difficulties sleeping throughout the night, sleeping too much, not wanting to get out of bed, avoiding sleep by staying up all night.
- Appetite – eating more, eating less, or choosing foods different from normal habits.
- Social Withdrawal – withdrawing from family and friends (not wanting to talk to them or see them), staying by oneself, avoiding social situations, avoiding classes.
- Focus/Concentration – difficulty paying attention in class, difficulties focusing on assignments, having to reread the same paragraph over and over again in order to understand the reading.
- Mood – sad, irritable, anxious, restless, worried, hopeless.
- Energy Level – sustained decrease in energy level and motivation, or having too much energy (e.g., unable to sleep or turn off thoughts).
- Behavior Changes – acting differently than usual (e.g., talking back at people, “not caring” attitude, not performing as usual, not engaging in activities formally enjoyed, increased substance abuse, engaging in other self-destructive behavior).
How you can helpIf you have identified a friend who you think is in distress or going through a tough time, or a friend has approached you seeking support, here are a few suggestions on how to help.
- Take the person aside and talk to him/her in private. Try to give the other person your undivided attention. Just a few minutes of listening might enable him or her to make a decision about what to do.
- Be honest and direct, but nonjudgmental. Take the initiative to ask what is troubling your friend and attempt to overcome reluctance to talk about it.
- Share what you have observed and why it concerns you. For example: "I've noticed that you've been missing class a lot lately and you aren't answering your phone or text messages like you used to. I'm worried about you."
- Listen carefully and with sensitivity. Listen in an open minded and nonjudgmental way.
- Note that distress often comes from conflicting feelings or demands. Acknowledge this, and from time to time, paraphrase what the other person is saying, which communicates your efforts to support and understand him/her. For example: "It sounds like on the one hand, you very much want to please your family, but on the other hand, you aren't sure that what they want for you is what you really want to do."
- Encourage. Encourage the person to take care of themselves, to be around friends, to sleep, to engage in activities that are enjoyable to them. Moreover, keep the lines of communication open so they feel comfortable talking to you again.
- Make a referral. Encourage the person to consider visiting the UCC when their distress does not decrease within an appropriate period of time or it increases, when they seem to be struggling to reach out for help, or when you feel your ability to assist has reached its limit. Consider offering to call the UCC with them or walk over with them if they are in immediate need of support. Please call ahead if possible.
- Follow up. Let the person know that you'll be checking back with him or her later to see how things turned out.
- Responding in a caring way. This can help the person feel less lonely and more hopeful. It can also prevent the distressed person's situation from escalating into a crisis.
Get crisis support
A crisis is subjective and personal and it can range from mild to life-threatening. When a person is in an emotional crisis, it should always be taken seriously and we encourage you to respond in a caring and immediate way. Here are a few examples of what you may see or hear from a person going through a crisis:
- Extreme agitation or panic
- References to or threats of suicide, or other types of self-harm
- Threats of assault, both verbal and physical
- Highly disruptive behavior: physical or verbal hostility, violence, destruction of property
- Inability to communicate (e.g., slurred or garbled speech, disjointed thoughts)
- Disorientation, confusion, loss of contact with conventional reality
- If a peer is in need of immediate support, your best option is to call: 2222 from any campus phone or 412-392-3960. This will connect you with Campus Safety Dispatch, who can help you determine whether the Student Life Administrator On Duty (AOD) and/or Campus Police should be involved. The AOD can help students connect with needed supports in the moment.
If you feel that a peer is in a non-life threatening psychological crisis, you can call the UCC during business hours (412-392-3977) or encourage the student to call themselves. The UCC receptionist will take some initial information and route the call appropriately. If you call, we will likely attempt to talk with the student of concern directly, if possible, and we will schedule a meeting with them within an appropriate time frame. If you feel comfortable, you can walk them to the UCC during business hours if they are willing. If so, please call ahead to let us know you are coming.
The counseling center is not equipped to provide “walk-in services,” but we are able to provide risk assessment and triage support during business hours. If the UCC is unavailable and immediate support is desired, students are encouraged to contact Resolve Crisis Network at 1-888-796-8226 (toll free).
Take care of yourself
We encourage students to be active members of the PPU community, attending to and caring for others around you. However, we also want you to take care of yourself and maintain healthy boundaries. Your own well-being is as important as that of the person in distress. In helping others, it is important to be aware of your own needs and recognize the limits of what you can or cannot do.
You don’t have to do this alone. If you are genuinely concerned for someone or you see someone in distress, it may be a good idea to contact someone else to share your concerns with (e.g., friends, staff member, family member, professor, coach, therapist). You may also contact the UCC via phone or stop in during our business hours to seek advice on how to handle the situation.
Please be aware that we are bound by law to protect confidentiality of anyone receiving our services. We do not share any personal information unless a student has signed a consent form or information is needed to protect safety. If you would like to talk to someone at the UCC regarding your student’s well-being, ask your student to consider signing a Release of Information form (ROI).
If a student does not sign an ROI, you may still call the UCC to share your concerns. We welcome information that might help a student when there are urgent psychological or emotional concerns. The therapist can listen to your concerns and consult about general issues that do not pertain to your student directly. Note, however, that the therapist will not be able to acknowledge that your student is engaged in services at the UCC nor provide you with any personal information.