Making the decision to seek counseling

Knowing when to speak with a counselor is a difficult decision to make. Often, individuals think about going to psychological counseling for months or even years before they actually make an appointment. It takes courage to speak about your personal issues with a counselor. There are many reasons students feel they can’t seek counseling. We believe you do not need to be "sick" to speak with a counselor. You just need to feel stuck. Our counselors are specialists in working with college students and the variety of concerns they share in counseling. Please feel free to contact us, and we will be glad to discuss any questions you may have about the counseling process. Our goal is to take the mystery and shame out of your counseling experience at University Counseling Services (UCS).

The benefits of counseling

Psychological counseling offers students an opportunity to learn about themselves and others. The major goal of psychological counseling is to help students learn strategies to cope with the demands of life, which can be beneficial now and in the future.

You may be interested in the services or the groups and workshops offered at UCS.

Become involved at UCS

UCS offers opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to develop skills and learn how to provide presentations on a variety of psychologically related topics to fellow students. Find out more about our peer education programs.

How to Help a Friend

College life can be very exciting and a time of new experiences as you are in the midst of many significant life changes. You are likely juggling many responsibilities and parts of your life like academics, family, finances, identity, friendships, dating, extracurricular activities and “me” time. In your personal life, you may have relationships with many people, including family members, friends, partners, roommates and peers at school. Within these multiple relationships, there may be times you find yourself feeling concerned or worried about someone you care about. For example, you may find yourself in the role of being a “therapist” to a friend or roommate. A family member, friend or roommate may tell you directly about their stressors or concerns; other times, they may not express these things directly, but you may observe and notice changes within them that concern you. It may seem unclear how to handle these situations or intervene and can feel overwhelming and confusing.

Below, you will find information about signs and symptoms of distress that may be helpful in identifying distress in someone you know along with suggestions for how to approach and intervene with someone you are concerned about. This information and these suggestions will not cover every situation in which you may find yourself. It’s very important to know how to access resources and when to seek others’ help, including professional assistance. 

Signs and symptoms of distress

It is particularly important to notice changes you may see in others that are different from prior observations. The more symptoms someone you know exhibits may indicate a greater level of distress.

Changes in appearance

  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Disheveled appearance
  • Significant changes in weight
  • Appearing excessively tired and fatigued 

Academic problems

  • Not going to class at all, decrease in class attendance or excessive tardiness
  • Missing exams, not doing or turning in assignments or completing them late
  • Avoidance of classroom participation
  • Disruptive classroom participation, including dominating discussions, asking excessive questions, interrupting others and making hostile comments

Social isolation and withdrawal

While some people are shy and not as sociable as others, a sudden withdrawal from social contact is a warning sign for distress. For example, you may notice a roommate, who used to be friendly and social, no longer interacts with you or others in the residence halls. They may decline invitations to join you or others for meals or to go out and seem to now prefer to be alone.

Extreme emotions

  • Irritability, anger, hostility or conflict with others
  • Frequent crying spells
  • Excessive anxiety during which the individual may talk about being under a lot of pressure, feeling tense, stressed, burned out and overwhelmed. Physical symptoms of anxiety include muscle tension, shortness of breath, accelerated heart rate, numbness, dizziness and chest pain
  • Depressed mood that can include feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in everyday activities, sleeping and eating problems, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, feelings of guilt or worthlessness and suicidal thoughts 

Unusual or odd behavior 

  • Suspiciousness and/or paranoia where the person feels that others are spying on them or trying to hurt them
  • Hearing voices and/or seeing things that are not there
  • Talking or laughing to self
  • Disorganized speech or behavior or inability to communicate
  • Very rapid speech
  • Disoriented or forgetful
  • Poor eye contact

 Drug or alcohol abuse

  • Intoxication
  • Blacking out
  • Use of substances negatively impacting person’s relationships and/or academics
  • Intoxicated behavior seems out of character for the person
  • Driving under the influence

Safety concerns

  • Statements expressing hopelessness or helplessness
  • Fixation on morbid content or death
  • Risk-taking behaviors
  • Making threats to harm or kill self
  • Making threats to harm or kill another 

How should I approach someone I am concerned about?


  • Speak to them in a private place and not in front of others. This minimizes shame or embarrassment.
  • Give them your undivided attention. Hold off answering texts or phone calls, as this conveys the message that you are genuinely interested, concerned and want to help.
  • Express your concerns. This should be done in a non-judgmental way and should focus on specific behaviors that concern you like, “I’ve noticed that you have not been going to class or coming down for meals,” or, “I notice you have been drinking more than usual.”
  • Listen attentively. Focus closely on their words, thoughts and feelings so you can really hear them and try to understand what is going on from their perspective.
  • Communicate support and understanding
  • Avoid comments or questions that may be perceived as critical or judgmental like, “Why have you been avoiding going out?” or “Why are you not eating?” or
  • “Why are you losing weight? You don’t look good.”
  • If you are concerned about their safety, ask the person directly about thoughts of suicide. Do not be afraid to talk about suicide. Be very straightforward and know that your question is not going to cause them to act on their suicidal thoughts, if they have any. In fact, people who are suicidal usually want to communicate their feelings. A way of asking this difficult question can be, “I can see that this is a difficult time for you and you are feeling very upset right now. Are you having thoughts of hurting yourself or killing yourself?”
  • Let them know that you care about them and want to help them. If they are a CSUN student, encourage them to contact University Counseling Services. Let them know that you are familiar with this resource, believe that these services can be helpful and are willing to accompany them to the office. If they are not open to going to UCS, you can still give them the phone number and location, as they may choose to go at a later time.
  • If you are unsure of what to do or how worried you need to be, you can contact staff at University Counseling Services. They can consult with you about a particular situation, offer suggestions and provide you with support. They can assist you in finding resources off-campus for non-CSUN students.
  • You can also talk to a faculty member, student leader or an RA about concerns you may have.


  • Ignore the situation and hope it will go away.
  • Be judgmental, critical or minimize the person’s pain or distress.
  • Forget to take care of yourself. You are not a therapist or professional and listening to a distressed person you care about can be emotionally draining.
  • Become that person’s therapist and attempt to handle and solve their problems for them. It is important not to take on this responsibility and to recognize your limits.
  • Tell the person what to do. Instead help them identify options and alternatives for themselves, including potentially talking to a therapist.
  • Hesitate to contact CSUN Police Services or the local police if you believe the person is in danger of hurting him or herself or others.

Need emergency assistance right away?

If you or someone else is experiencing a potentially life-threatening situation and is in need of immediate attention, call 911 or CSUN Police Services at (818) 677-2111. 

Emergency hotlines and resources              

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
(800) 273-TALK
Open 24 hours a day 

New Hope Helpline
Crisis intervention services and support
(714) 639-4673 
Open 24 hours a day          

Strength United
Rape crisis hotline
(818) 886-0453
Open 24 hours a day

Drug Helpline
(800) 559-9503           

Eating Disorders Information and Referral Line
(800) 931-2237

Los Angeles County services
Call 211
Information on food and shelter assistance and a variety of other services
Open 24 hours a day.