UI Employee Assistance Program

Campus Address
121-50 USB
Mailing Address

121 University Services Building, Suite 50
Iowa City, IA 52242-1911
United States

As a leader, you are in a good position to identify someone who may be emotionally distressed. While stress is to be expected, especially during challenging times, you may notice someone acting in a way that is inconsistent with your normal experience with that person. You may be able to be a resource in times of difficulty.

Your expression of interest and concern may be critical factors in helping the individual re-establish emotional equilibrium. You may also be able to alert the university so that an appropriate intervention can be made.

Signs of Distress

  •  Marked change in performance or behavior
  • Excessive absence or tardiness
  • Trouble eating and/or sleeping
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Exaggerated emotional response that is obviously inappropriate to the situation
  • Depressed or lethargic mood
  • Hyperactivity or very rapid speech
  • Marked change in personal hygiene
  • Excessive confusion
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Dependency (individual hangs around or makes excessive appointments to see you)

When to Take Immediate Action

  •  Strange or bizarre behavior indicating loss of contact with reality
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Isolation from friends, family, or co-workers
  • Gives away prized possessions
  • Prepares for death by making a will and final arrangements
  • Aggressiveness behavior
  • Verbal or written references to suicide
  • Verbal or written references to homicide or assaultive behavior

Response Dos and Don'ts

  • DO speak with the employee privately
  • DO let them know you are concerned about their welfare
  • DO express your concern in behavioral, non-judgmental terms
  • DO tell them you are willing to help
  • DO listen carefully to what they are troubled about
  • DO help them explore options
  • DO suggest resources
  • DO make referrals to the appropriate campus department
  • DO point out that help is available and that seeking such help is a sign of strength and courage rather than weakness or failure
  • DO maintain clear and consistent boundaries and expectations
  • DO recognize your limits
  • DO document the interaction or incident
  • DON’T promise confidentiality
  • DON’T judge or criticize
  • DON’T ignore the unusual behavior
  • DON’T make the problem your own
  • DON’T involve yourself beyond the limits of your time or skill

Referrals and Resources

Adapted from materials from Ohio State University, University of Colorado at Boulder and Penn State University. Used with permission.

Download this guide to dealing with distressed individuals in PDF format. For additional advice or services, contact the Employee Assistance Program.