Are you concerned about a friend or a classmate? You may want to help, but feel unsure about what to do. Students are often hesitant to seek professional help because they think that their problems aren’t serious enough or they don’t know where to go to get help. Friends are often the first people to become aware that a peer is struggling. Friends play an important role in providing assistance by validating the person’s experience of distress and by supporting the person to get help to address the problem. Here are suggestions to help you, help a friend:

If your friend…

Seems unusually anxious, sad, upset or depressed

How to know if a problem warrants professional help

If a person is experiencing several of these symptoms that persist over a period of more than a week and they are having difficulty functioning as a result, we advise seeking professional help.

  • Withdrawal
  • Lack of pleasure in activities
  • Sleeping a lot or insomnia
  • Change in appetite
  • Avoidance
  • Not attending classes
  • Drop in academic performance
  • Lethargy
  • Irritability
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Intense anxiety or nervousness

What you can do to help

Depression and anxiety are both very treatable conditions and there are resources on campus to help.

  • Talk to your friend, express your concern and support.
  • Listen empathetically and non-judgmentally.
  • Ask how you can help?
  • Help them recall constructive methods they’ve used in the past to cope and encourage them to do something to change things now.
  • Help them identify resources and sources of support.
  • Encourage them to seek help.
  • Recommend the Counseling Center as a resource and encourage them to make an appointment. You could even walk them over to the Counseling Center.
  • Check back with them after your initial conversation to see how they are doing.

If the problem persists or gets worse

  • You don’t need to figure out a solution alone.
  • Consult with an RA or Residence Life staff about what to do.
  • Call the Counseling Center and talk with a counselor about your concerns and get some advice about how to approach your friend.
  • Professionals in the Dean of Student Life Office can also assist you in getting your friend help. They will intervene to connect your friend with support services as needed.

Is hurting themselves (for example by cutting or burning their skin)

How to know if a problem warrants professional help

Self-injury is often a means of emotional regulation and a coping strategy. It can also be alarming and disruptive to others. Self-injury suggests that the person is dealing with issues that are overwhelming for them at times. Individual counseling or workshops and groups offered at the Counseling Center can help people learn healthy, effective coping strategies.

What you can do to help

  • Seek immediate medical attention if there is any indication that the person is seriously injured (deep cuts or wounds that won’t stop bleeding or are infected).
  • If you have a relationship with the person, express your concern and strongly recommend that they seek help. Have them call the Counseling Center while you are together or walking them over to the office for an emergency walk-in appointment.
  • If you are aware that a peer is self-injuring, but don’t feel comfortable expressing your concerns to them directly, get a professional involved. An RA, a Residence Life staff member, or a professional in the Dean of Student Life Office will all reach out to the student and make a referral. The Counseling Center can also consult with you to offer suggestions on how to intervene.

If the problem persists or gets worse

  • Communicate your concerns to either the Counseling Center or the Dean of Student Life Office. You may know details the professionals don’t.
  • It’s also important that University professionals know if your friends’ distress is negatively impacting your experience at school. School is meant to be a time of growth for you: not one of constant worry.

Indicates that they are suicidal

How to know if a problem warrants professional help

Suicidal thinking can occur when a person is feeling very stressed and down. When a person is having these thoughts, they often say things that hint at how bad they are feeling. “It would be better if I just weren’t around.” “I just want all of this to end.” “I wish I were dead.”

The most common reaction of friends and family to these types of statements is silence, which leaves the person feeling even more alone and isolated in their negative thoughts and feelings. It’s important to respond directly to statements referencing suicidal thinking and intervene promptly to get the person help. Don’t be afraid that you are putting the idea of suicide in someone’s head by speaking about it. It’s already there and the person needs someone to acknowledge the desperate feelings, to give them hope that it can get better and to connect them to help.

What you can do to help

  • Ask directly if the person is having suicidal thoughts. “Are you suicidal?”
  • Remain calm and express concern and offer support.
  • Let your friend know that you want to ensure that they are safe and therefore you need to get professional help immediately. A trained professional needs to assess the person’s level of suicidal risk. Never leave a suicidal person alone. During regular business hours call the Counseling Center and press 1 to speak with the on-call counselor. After hours, contact the Counselor Center at 410-516-8278 and press 1.
  • If your friend is resistant to seeking help, you can call the Counseling Center for advice on what to do. There are also other professionals on campus that your friend might be willing to talk with initially, an RA, a Residential Life Staff member, a Dean in the Office of Student Life or you can take your friend to the closest hospital Emergency Department. The important thing is to assure that you connect your friend with a professional who can evaluate their level of risk. Be sure that you inform the professional why you are concerned

If the problem persists or gets worse

When it comes to a friend expressing thoughts of suicide, consider each instance an emergency. Don’t assume that because they didn’t act on their thoughts the last time that they won’t the next time.

Call the Counseling Center to keep them informed of why you continue to be concerned about your friend’s well-being. Do this each time your friend tells you they are thinking about suicide.

Speak with the Office of the Dean of Student Life. They need to know that the problem is persisting and can check in with your friend about whether or not he or she is getting the treatment needed.

It is important that professionals at the University know if your friends’ distress is having a negative impact on your experience at school.

Makes an attempt to end their life

How to know if a problem warrants professional help

This is an emergency situation and it is important to get assistance ASAP.

What you can do to help

Call 911 immediately and explain the situation. After you have called 911, call campus security. Campus security will involve the Counseling Center and the Dean of Student Life.

If the problem persists or gets worse

In all of the above situations, it can be helpful to recognize when you have done all that you can. Take comfort in knowing that your friend has come to the attention of trained professionals. As best you can, try to care for yourself – it’s not easy being the support for someone going through such a hard time. If you need support, consider coming to the Counseling Center to talk about how you can take care of yourself while being supportive of your friend.

Was the victim of sexual violence

How to know if a problem warrants professional help

Stalking, inappropriate touching, sexual harassment, unwanted sexual advances, relationship violence, sexual assault and rape are all examples of potentially traumatic incidents that can be very distressing. The victim may be in shock and find it difficult to believe that they were violated in such a way, especially when the assailant is an acquaintance or friend. Hearing about a situation where a friend was harmed by a fellow student can be difficult for you too. You may find it hard to believe and it may cause you to question your own security or your judgment of the individuals involved.

What you can do to help

  • First and foremost – BELIEVE what they are telling you!
  • Being assaulted takes the control away from the person, so it’s important to allow your friend to be in control of what happens next.
  • Listen, offer support and information about resources.
  • The JHU Sexual Assault Helpline, 410-516-7333, is a confidential phone line where JHU students can get help and support regarding issues of sexual assault. Calls to the line can be anonymous and are confidential. Callers are not making a report of an assault to the University when they call this line. The line is answered by trained Counseling Center staff who provide support in understanding the options available for medical care, emotional support and reporting the incident to the legal system or the University. The decision about what to do next, if anything, remains with the caller.
  • Encourage your friend to call the Counseling Center and ask for an emergency appointment. The Counseling Center is a confidential resource on campus and issues of sexual misconduct discussed in counseling are NOT reported to the University.
  • If a student wants to report the misconduct to the University they can call the JHU Title IX Coordinator at 410-516 8075.
  • JHU’s Sexual Assault Response and Prevention website provides detailed information about sexual assault services and policies at JHU.
  • TurnAround Sexual Assault Helpline 443-279-0379 is an off-campus confidential community resource available to victims of sexual assault/domestic violence.

If the problem persists or gets worse

A common reaction of victims of sexual misconduct is to try to avoid the issue. They may try to resume their life and pretend that nothing happened. This may work for a while, but often becomes very difficult and their life may become restricted as they try to block out emotions, situations, and/or people. Continue to encourage your friend to talk with the confidential resources on campus, (the Student Health & Wellness Center or the College Chaplains). You can also consult with these resources to talk about how you can best help your friend.

Is drinking or abusing drugs excessively

How to know if a problem warrants professional help

If several of these symptoms are present it could be helpful for your friend to talk with a professional about their substance use.

  • Out of control use
  • Substance use results in inability to fulfill commitments or goals
  • Memory lapse(s) when drinking
  • Alcohol or drug related offenses with the University or the legal system
  • Concern about own substance use
  • Concerns about substance use expressed by others
  • Family history of addiction

What you can do to help

In a caring and non-judgmental way, point out ways that your friend’s substance use is interfering with their life, goals and relationships. Suggest they talk with a professional at the Counseling Center to get an assessment of their substance use and consider ways to change their pattern of use to reduce their level of risk. The Counseling Center offers a Harm Reduction group every semester for those who want to explore ways to reduce their substance use.

In situations of possible alcohol poisoning, NEVER leave an overly intoxicated person alone to just “sleep it off”. Blood alcohol content continues to rise after a person stops drinking. Stay with the person to prevent choking and get help. Call 911 if the person is unconscious.

If the problem persists or gets worse

If you have already shared your concerns with your friend and feel like additional steps need to be taken to address these issues, consider involving a parent, coach, or other trusted friends. Share your concerns with an RA, the Residential Life staff, the Dean of Student Life Office or consult with the Counseling Center about how to best help your friend.

Be aware of how your own behavior may be enabling your friend’s continued and possibly excessive use. Remember that your friend needs to be responsible for their choices and use. Experiencing the consequences of substance abuse can be a factor in motivating change.

Is struggling with eating and/or body image issues (e.g., experiencing body image distortions, restricting food, over-exercising, body checking, intentionally vomiting)

Eating disorders are serious but treatable mental and physical illnesses that can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights. National surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an Eating Disorder at some point in their lives.

How to know if you or a loved one may benefit from professional help
In general, behaviors and attitudes that indicate that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns can be indicators of eating and/or body image issues.
Emotionally, this may include:
1. Becoming preoccupied with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, and dieting
2. Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g., no carbohydrates, etc.)
3. Feeling uncomfortable eating around others
4. Engaging in food rituals (e.g. eats only a particular food or food group [e.g. condiments], excessive chewing, doesn’t allow foods to touch)
5. Skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals
Physically, this may include:
1. Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down
2. Stomach cramps, other non-specific gastrointestinal complaints (constipation, acid reflux, etc.)
3. Menstrual irregularities — missing periods or only having a period while on hormonal contraceptives (this is not considered a “true” period)
4. Difficulties concentrating
5. Abnormal laboratory findings (anemia, low thyroid and hormone levels, low potassium, low white and red blood cell counts)
A comprehensive list of emotional and physical signs and symptoms can be found at
What you can do to help
Friends and family are often key to encouraging loved ones with eating and/or body image issues to seek help. Whether they are unaware that there is a problem, afraid or ashamed to reach out, or ambivalent about giving up their concerning behaviors, many sufferers find it difficult to seek help. Family and friends can play an important role in identifying worrying symptoms to the sufferer and encouraging them to seek help.
1. Be honest. Talk openly and honestly about your concerns with the person who is struggling with eating or body image problems. Avoiding it or ignoring it won’t help!

2. Stick to the facts. Raising concerns about a potential Eating Disorder can bring up lots of emotions, and it’s important not to let those run the show. Instead, talk about behaviors and changes you have observed and calmly point out why you are concerned (“I have seen you run to the bathroom after meals and feel worried you might be making yourself throw up.”).
3. Be caring, but be firm. Caring about your friend does not mean being manipulated by them. Your friend must be responsible for their actions and the consequences of those actions. Avoid making rules, promises, or expectations that you cannot or will not uphold. For example, “I promise not to tell anyone.” Or, “If you do this one more time, I’ll never talk to you again.”
4. Remove potential stigma. Remind your loved one that there’s no shame in admitting you struggle with an Eating Disorder or other mental health issue. Many people will be diagnosed with these issues during their lifetimes, and many will recover.
5. Encourage them to seek professional help. Many Eating Disorder sufferers require professional help in order to get better. Offer to help the sufferer find a physician or therapist if they don’t have one, or attend an appointment where the Eating Disorder is discussed. Getting timely, effective treatment dramatically increases a person’s chances for recovery.

If your loved one is ready to seek treatment or you want to explore options, the Counseling Center and the Student Health and Wellness Center are both resources on campus that can assist students with eating and/or body image issues.

Important Phone Numbers

JHU Security 410-516-7777

Peabody Security 667-208-6608

Counseling Center 410-516-8278

Student Health and Wellness Center 410-516-8270

Sexual Assault Helpline (for ALL JHU students) 410-516-7333

Office of the Dean of Student Life (Homewood) 410-516-8208

Peabody Office of Student Affairs 667-208-6700