As teachers, we often work closely with our colleagues. Not only is this a great way to share our workload, but it is also a way to share how you are doing generally. Sometimes we get into situations where it becomes very clear that our friends and colleagues are struggling. They may tell us outright, or it might be clear through their behaviors.

For example, you might notice a teacher colleague is missing more school than usual or perhaps he or she has stopped responding to your calls. It can be really hard to know what to do in these situations. We often want to help, but feel unsure how to offer support. Below are a number of suggestions about what to do for a distressed person for whom you are concerned—or if such a person comes to you.

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.

Listen carefully and with sensitivity. Listen in an open-minded and nonjudgmental way.

Be honest and direct, but nonjudgmental. Share what you have observed and why it concerns you. For example: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been missing school a lot lately, and you aren’t answering your phone or text messages like you used to. I’m worried about you.”

Note that distress often comes from conflicting feelings or demands. Acknowledge this, and from time to time, paraphrase what the other person is saying. 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.”

Make a referral. Direct the person to a source of support such as a counseling center in the area. Encourage him or her to call and make an appointment with a counselor right then and there.

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 to a person in distress can help prevent the distressed person’s situation from escalating into a crisis.

Your own safety and wellbeing. In dealing with a distressed person, your own safety and wellbeing are just as important as that of the person in distress. Recognizing the limits of what you can and can’t do to help someone else is a crucial part of this.

What you can do:

  • Be genuinely concerned and supportive
  • Be honest with yourself about how much time and effort you can afford to spend in helping
  • Be aware of your own needs and seek support for yourself
  • Maintain and respect healthy boundaries

What you can’t do:

  • Control how another person is going to respond to you
  • Decide for another person whether or not s/he wants help or wants to change

Remember. Supporting a friend with a mental health concern can be one of the most important parts of their success in dealing with it.