Help Someone

Identifying Students in Distress

Demonstrating empathy and willingness to support a friend or student is an important part of building our strong community. Around campus—in residence and dining halls, classrooms, and groups—faculty, staff, and students may witness early signs of distress in others. Students often seek initial assistance from other students, faculty, and staff because they perceive them to be available and willing to listen.

Individuals dealing with personal issues or problems tend to show signs that they are struggling in some way.  Many students may experience low mood or anxiety. However, when symptoms of distress are persistent over a long period of time or when they interfere with academic responsibilities and social relationships, it may be a cause for concern. Following is a list of signs that may indicate that a student is struggling:

Recognize the Signs


- Significant change in quality of work
- Repeated missed assignments
- Repeated absences
- Continual late papers, extension requests, postponed exams, etc.
- Essays or papers that have themes of despair, social isolation, rage
- Sustained lack of engagement, avoiding or dominating discussions



- Marked changes in dress, hygiene, or weight
- Insomnia or excessive sleep
- Highly disruptive behaviors (e.g., agitation, withdrawal, lack of apparent emotion) 
- Unprovoked anger or hostility
- Irritability, frequent anxiety, or tearfulness
- Long, incomprehensible and/or grandiose electronic communications



- Death or severe illness of a family member
- The break-up of a relationship
- Sexual assault
- Legal or financial problems
- Crisis or war in country of origin
- Consequences of environmental disasters


How you can show support:

  1. Listen with an open mind
  2. Be supportive
  3. Express Concern
  4. Offer a referral to CAMHS
  5. Suggest a phone call to the 24/7 CAMHS Cares Mental Health Support Line at 617-495-2042

The purpose of Counseling and Mental Health Service (CAMHS), a unit of Harvard University Health Services, is to serve students throughout their college career, not only when they are “in crisis.” 

CAMHS Care logo with phone number 617-495-2042Additionally, the CAMHS Cares Mental Health Support Line is available. The CAMHS Cares line 617-495-2042 is a 24/7 support line for Harvard students who have mental health concerns, whether they are in immediate distress or not, on-campus or elsewhere.

What is a Crisis?

A crisis is a situation in which an individual’s usual style of coping is no longer effective, and their emotional or physiological responses begin to escalate. As emotions intensify, coping becomes less effective, until the person can become disoriented, nonfunctional, or attempt harm. If a student is in a serious mental health crisis, you might see or hear the following:

  • Suicidal statements, planning, or suicide attempts
  • Written or verbal violence, or acting out violently
  • Destruction of property or other criminal acts
  • Extreme anxiety resulting in inability to speak or breathe
  • Inability to communicate (e.g., garbled or slurred speech, disjointed thoughts)
  • Loss of contact with reality (e.g., seeing or hearing things that aren’t there, expressing beliefs or actions at odds with reality)


Call the Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) at 617-495-1212 and request medical transport to Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) emergency department. Please stay with the student until HUPD arrives.


Call CAMHS Cares Mental Health Support Line and follow prompts to speak with a counselor at 617-495-2042. Note: This is not a crisis hot line. If there is an emergency, call 911 or Harvard University Police Department (HUPD) at 617-495-1212.


CAMHS clinicians are available for consultations about a student concern. Students can make an initial consultation on the HUHS Patient Portal or they can call the CAMHS office during business hours (8am to 6pm Monday through Thursday and 8am to 5pm Friday) at 617-495-2042 to inquire about a same day appointment.