When should I be concerned?
Someone who is in distress is likely to give off clues that they need help, such as:
- Excessive anxiety or panic
- Marked decline in academic work or job performance
- Frequent absence from class or work, especially when this is a change
- Apathy or lack of energy
- Change in sleeping or eating habits or dramatic weight gain or loss
- Marked changes in personal hygiene, work habits, or social behavior
- Isolation or withdrawal
- Expressions of hopelessness and helplessness in conversations, emails, or postings on social media.
Trust your instincts. Taken alone, any one of the above indicators doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual is experiencing severe distress. And some of these clues are more obvious warning signs than others. But regardless of what you actually observe, if you feel worried about someone, you should act.
How can I help?
There are many things you might do when you are worried about another person, but the most important thing is not to keep your concerns to yourself. You might:
- Talk to the individual: If you feel comfortable doing so, the first step may be to talk to the person. Ask an open-ended question—“How is it going?”—and then listen in a nonjudgmental way. Let the individual know you are concerned. Even if he or she insists nothing is wrong, it may help the person to know you care.
- Involve others: If you don’t feel able to talk to the individual, talk with others who might be able to begin a conversation with that person and encourage him or her to seek help.
- Encourage the person to see a clinician: Students can see a clinician at Student Mental Health and Counseling Services; faculty and staff have access to outside clinicians through MyLife Services. If you’re talking to a student, you might tell them that students visit Student Mental Health and Counseling for both large and small problems. That roughly 29 percent of the students in each graduating class will have visited Student Mental Health and Counseling at least once during their time at MIT. You can even offer to call and help them make the first appointment or walk over with them to MIT Medical to speak with someone during our walk-in hours from 2–4 p.m., Monday to Friday.
- Ask us for advice: If you’re worried about someone in the MIT community—student, staff member, or anyone else—we can give you advice on the best approach you can take to help that individual. Just call us at one of the numbers above, or visit us during walk-in hours (Monday–Friday, 2–4 p.m.). A mental health clinician is on call and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you’re an MIT student, another way to get advice is to visit our “Let’s Chat” drop-in hours. Let’s Chat provides easy access to informal, free, confidential consultations with counselors from MIT Medical’s Student Mental Health and Counseling Services. We’re at the Office of Minority Education (4-107) on selected Tuesday evenings and Thursday afternoons during the academic year. You don’t need an appointment; just drop in or use the sign-up sheet in 4-107 to reserve a 20-minute time slot in advance. Read our FAQ for more information.
If a situation seems urgent, contact the campus police and have the person transported to MIT Medical or a hospital emergency room. If the individual is talking about suicide, it is an urgent situation, and you should contact MIT Police immediately.
See also: How to Help Someone in Distress [PDF].
What if it seems urgent?
You may contact MIT Police and have the person transported to MIT Medical or to a hospital emergency room. You should also know that you can speak with a mental health clinician about an urgent concern any hour of the day or night. We are on call and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at the numbers above. Anyone thinking about suicide should talk to a Student Mental Health clinician right away.
Especially for parents
If your son or daughter is an MIT student and you’re worried about his or her mental health, urge your child to seek help. We cannot share information about specific students, but we are happy to listen to your concerns. We can give you information about campus resources to share with your son or daughter, and we can offer advice.
For faculty and residential staff
Faculty members, housemasters, and other residential staff may be the first to notice uncharacteristic changes in a student’s behavior or academic performance. If you are concerned about a student, trust your instincts, and don’t keep your concerns to yourself. Try sharing your concerns with the student in a non-judgmental way. For example, a faculty member might say, “You seem to be having a hard time lately,” instead of, “You have not been performing well recently in this class.” See "How can I help?"
Housemasters and other residential staff may also contact the mental health liaison assigned to each dorm to discuss concerns and get advice about helping students. Mental health liaisons can visit dorms to hold educational sessions about mental health issues. They can also answer questions and address students’ concerns about accessing mental health services. For more information about mental health liaisons, call us at 617-253-2916.
See also: How to Help Students in Distress [PDF]