How to Help a Student

You may be concerned about a student who seems to be struggling academically, personally, or emotionally and you want to help–but how? You can express concern and be accepting and non-judgmental. You can also encourage him or her to reach out to JHSAP for free, confidential professional counseling services.

For faculty and staff concerned about a student:

Please visit the “How Faculty & Staff Can Help” page of this website.

For students concerned about a friend, roommate, or classmate:

Friends can be helpful to students in distress. You may be concerned about a friend’s thoughts or behaviors. Often students in distress are feeling overwhelmed and embarrassed about their symptoms.  Your kind words, expression of concern, and referral to a competent professional can make a significant difference in the life of the student, his or her friends and family, and the Johns Hopkins community.

It is important to “trust your gut” in these situations and act.  You may be the only person with whom your friend feels comfortable discussing their situation, or you may be one of the people who can see changes in your friend early on and help before the problem becomes overwhelming.  When you notice a concern, remember that JHSAP wants to support all distressed, suicidal, or potentially dangerous students before concerning behaviors escalate.

What to look for

While each distressed person will likely experience a variety of different symptoms, there are some common warning signs.

Emotional symptoms may be the most evident.  Look for changes that occur quickly and behaviors that are a departure from the person’s normal behaviors. For example, you might notice the following:

  • Crying more often
  • Decrease in sense of self worth
  • Doesn’t seem like themselves
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Strange behaviors
  • Becomes socially withdrawn
  • Loss of ability to experience happiness or pleasure
  • Excessive anger or preoccupation
  • Talk of death

Symptoms of stress and decline often manifest physically. The following, combined with other symptoms, should be observed and noted:

  • Weight loss or gain
  • Less concern about appearance
  • Sleeping much more or much less
  • Poor hygiene
  • Aggressiveness or violence
  • Possession of a weapon, particularly a firearm

All Johns Hopkins students are here because of hard work and determination. If you notice the following academic symptoms, it could be significant and should be addressed:

  • Doesn’t seem to care about school as much as usual
  • Not studying
  • Grades drop

What to do

It’s important to intervene when you see a friend in trouble.  Because your friend trusts you, you may be in the best position to connect your friend with professional counseling services and resources. The following are useful things to consider when deciding how to approach your friend:

  • Express concern. Let your friend know that you are worried and that you care about what happens to them.
  • Be accepting and non-judgmental. Do your best not to make remarks that could be interpreted as critical or insensitive.
  • Offer support. Ask what you can do to be helpful. Let your friend know that you’re available for support.
  • Encourage your friend to seek help. Let him or her know that there are services available such as JHSAP which is free and confidential for JHU graduate, medical, and professional students.
  • Stay calm. If you are able to remain calm, it is more likely that your friend will respond calmly.

Know your limits as a helper

Intervening with a friend can be stressful and draining. It’s important to make sure that you are taken care of as well as your friend.

  • Help find other sources of help and support so you are not the only one.
  • Only take on what you can manage.
  • Avoid risky situations.
  • Follow your intuition.

When in doubt, ask for help. JHSAP provides consultation services to students about many issues, including helping each other. You can call 443-287-7000 to talk with a counselor about your concerns and get suggestions on how to proceed.