Helping staff and faculty in distress

Everyone plays an important role in creating healthy and respectful work environments.


Recognize signs of distress

In your role as a UBC staff or faculty member, you may be the first person to see signs that a colleague is in distress, or they may come to you specifically for help.  Use this guide to familiarize yourself with commons signs of distress, and the steps you can take to offer assistance.


Respond with concern and empathy

It’s okay to be uncertain about how to respond. You don’t need to have all the answers. Being there to support your colleagues is often the most valuable thing that you can do.

  • If possible, move to a discrete and appropriate environment.
  • Express concern and be specific about the signs and behaviours you’ve noticed (i.e. “I’ve noticed you don’t seem like yourself at work lately.”)
  • Listen actively, ask open ended questions, and help them feel heard and understood


Refer your colleague to available resources

Your role is not to diagnose or treat, but you can share that confidential help is available. Early intervention plays a key role in creating healthy and respectful workplaces.

  • Help make them aware of the range of support services available (see next page)

If a colleague does not want help:

  • Respect their decision. Accepting assistance must be left up to the individual, except in emergencies.
  • If they change their mind, they can access resources in the future.

Connect to Resources

Imminent Risk of Harm:

“I am concerned about my colleague’s safety, or the safety of others.”


  • Active thoughts of suicide, with a plan or suicide attempt.
  • Behaviour that is violent, destructive, aggressive or threatening to self or others.
  • Colleague is confused, hallucinating, or has trouble remaining conscious.

Steps to Take Immediately:

  1. First, call Emergency Services: 911
  2. Then, call Campus Security:
    • UBC Vancouver: 604.822.2222
    • UBC Okanagan: 250.807.8111

High Level of Distress:

“I am concerned about some recent behaviour that is out of character for one of my colleagues.”


  • Deterioration in personal appearance and hygiene, and significant impairment with daily tasks.
  • Expressions of severe hopelessness or references to suicide.
  • Substance use concerns.
  • Loss of touch with reality/severely disorganized thinking.
  • Increased interpersonal conflict and anger.
  • Physical health concerns.

Resources and Supports:

General Mental Health Problem:

“I am concerned about the general wellbeing of one of my colleagues.  I’m not sure if it is serious but I would like to offer them some support.”


  • Low or irritable mood with change in energy, appetite, sleep, and/or concentration, which is impacting daily functioning.
  • Persistent worry, obsessions, agitation, irrationality, racing thoughts, panic attacks.
  • Flashbacks to a traumatic event, intrusive memories and thoughts.
  • Interpersonal conflict.
  • Lack of social support.

Resources and Supports:

Managers and Supervisors

If you’ve observed concerning changes in behavior that are impacting the workplace, the university may have a legal “duty to inquire.”  Before taking any further steps, please contact the appropriate resources for support.

UBC Vancouver: Advisory Services or Faculty Relations
UBC Okanagan: Human Resources

You can also contact UBC’s Employee and Family Assistance Program for confidential People Manager Consultations: 1-800-387-4765.

Download the Orange folder

A printable guide for assisting colleagues in distress

Questions or requests for copies
UBC Vancouver:  email Halina Deptuck.
UBC Okanagan: email Amanda Swoboda

Concerned about a student? Learn more about how to assist a student in distress.

In need of support for someone who has experienced sexual assault or other forms of sexual violence? Learn more about UBC’s Sexual Violence and Response (SVPRO) office.