Most individuals experience elevated stress at some point of time. You may encounter individuals who are in distress or who exhibit distressed behaviours. While you may not be equipped with counselling skills, you can still help and provide much needed support.

Recognising Signs of Distress:

Early Signs

  • Sadness and tearfulness
  • Signs of agitation, anger, aggression, nervousness, or fear
  • Change in behaviours in school/at work
  • Change in lifestyles and appearance
  • The use of alcohol, cigarettes, and medication to cope

Critical Signs

  • Disclosures of thoughts of suicide
  • Self-harm behaviors or non-accidental injuries (e.g. scars, burns or cuts)
  • Statements or behaviors indicating possible intention to harm self or others
  • Expression of hopelessness
  • Distorted sense of reality, incoherent or illogical speech

What You Can Do

When responding to an individual in distress, you can offer assistance by doing the following:


Find a comfortable place to talk and

share with the individual about your concerns.

Attend to practical needs first such as medical needs when necessary.

Actively Listen

Encourage the individual to talk about the distress they are experiencing and listen actively.


Ask how you may be able to help.  If risk signs are present, ask “are you thinking of hurting yourself?”, “are you thinking of suicide?”, “are you thinking of hurting someone else?”


Help to brainstorm possible solutions including assisting in referrals to relevant services and resources with the individual. If the individual does not consent for referral, consult for assistance on what you could do. Under no circumstances agree to keep information pertaining to risk confidential. If you are unsure or the individual is unwilling to let you do so, check with Lifeline NUS, Office of Campus Security, Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) or the Police. For safety reasons, it may be necessary to stay with the individual until a professional attends to the individual. You may want to have friendly check-ins at a later date.

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