What to notice; how to respond
If you’re concerned about another student, please don’t delay in offering support, or consulting with someone who can help.
Learn to recognize and respond to signs of distress that can indicate a student may be experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis, or contemplating harm to self or others.
Emergencies and urgent concerns: Call 911, or the Cornell Police at 607-255-1111. You can also call us at 607-255-5155 for consultation (when we’re closed, an on-call health care provider will return your call within 30 minutes).
Staff and faculty members: Please refer to our Resources for Faculty & Staff page.
Signs of distress
The following indicators can be important signs of distress, particularly when they interfere with a student’s health and/or social and academic functioning:
- Unrelenting sadness, hopelessness, or apathy
- Loss of interest in socializing
- Deterioration in academic functioning, included falling behind and missing classes
- Verbal or written threats of suicide, or expressions of hopelessness or a wish to die
- Persistent problems with sleep, appetite, concentration, or motivation
- Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
- Impulsivity and unnecessary risk-taking
- Incongruous or out-of-context emotional outbursts (unprovoked anger or hostility, sobbing)
- Dramatic changes in energy levels or personality traits
- Worrisome changes in hygiene or personal appearance, including significant weight changes
- Noticeable cuts, bruises, or burns
- Unusual or extreme obsessions – with a person, situation, or topic
- Threats of violence
You may notice one or more of these signs and decide that something is clearly wrong. Or you may just have a “gut feeling” that something’s amiss.
Either way, you should take these signs – and your intuition – seriously. Most people who attempt suicide, self-harm, or violence give some warning of their intentions.
How to respond
In any given situation, there are likely to be several "right ways" to reach out in a caring manner. The only real risk is in doing nothing. You can …
Speak with the person directly
Express your concern, and let them know you care. Using “I” statements to reflect on what you’ve observed is a great place to start (i.e., “I’ve noticed you seem really down these past few weeks,” or "I'm worried about you because I notice you're drinking more, and not making it to your morning classes”). Listen with your full attention, be compassionate and non-judgmental, and don’t jump to conclusions or offer quick solutions.
Remind your friend that the pain or challenges they feel now are not permanent, and that help is available. You can suggest that they connect with a Cornell Health counselor, or any of the other campus resources listed on Cornell’s Caring Community website. Offer to go with them to an appointment. You may also want to suggest that they reach out to their family for support. But avoid giving ultimatums or trying to pressure someone into changing or getting help.
If your friend has been a victim of sexual assault or abuse, be sure your friend knows you believe them, and reassure them that whatever happened is not their fault. Ask open-ended questions like "what can I do to support you?" Avoid telling them what to do, but do gently suggest available resources (see our Assault & Harassment page). Support your friend's decisions about reporting and seeking medical care and counseling.
If you’re having trouble approaching your friend, you can speak with a Cornell Health counselor about your concerns and get help brainstorming ways you might deal with the situation.
If it’s an emergency, call 911. Otherwise, you can also call Cornell Health for consultation (607-255-5155), or speak with an EARS peer counselor about ways to support your friend. If the student lives in University housing, you can speak with their residential staff, who are trained to respond to such concerns. If you’re comfortable doing so, you may also speak with a professor, TA or staff member in your college advising/student services office.
You can find more resources by visiting the Get Help page on Cornell’s Caring Community website. Visit the Reporting Concerns page for resources related to sexual misconduct, bias, harassment, discrimination, hazing, and suspicious behavior.
If you don’t know where to start – or you’re having trouble dealing with the situation yourself – you can connect with a Cornell Health counselor for consultation and personal support. Supporting a friend in crisis can be stressful and traumatic, and you do not need to go through it alone.
Caring Community resources
Cornell is a caring community that takes its responsibility to look out for one another very seriously. In addition to the tips listed above, you can find numerous resources and ways to get support on the Get Help page on Cornell's Caring Community website.
Notice & Respond training
Our Skorton Center for Health Initiatives offers the following bystander intervention programs to help Cornell community members learn how to provide assistance to individuals who are struggling with mental health concerns or suicidal thoughts:
- "Notice & Respond: Friend 2 Friend" programming for students
- "Notice & Respond: Assisting Students in Distress" programming for staff and faculty