Helping a Colleague Who is Troubled or Distressed

The University at Buffalo recognizes that personal problems at home or interpersonal issues at work can negatively affect one’s job performance, mental health, and/or physical health. The goal of Employee Assistance is to help staff and faculty deal with these problems and issues in the most positive way possible. The entire university, including YOU, benefits from employees who are feeling good and working productively!

On this page:

Helping a Distressed Colleague

We should be concerned when:

We work in a challenging environment in which we are constantly striving for excellence and high performance. We may encounter stress on a frequent basis. We all cope with stress in different ways at different times. Some people become irritable, overwhelmed, anxious, tired, depressed or demoralized. Others react in other ways. For the vulnerable, such stress may be too much to tolerate without losing control, and there is potential for tragedy.

While there is no clear way to predict behavior, many people have recognized that there is often an escalating pattern of behavior or events that people observe before an event takes place. 

A co-worker is often the first to observe signs of distress or trouble.

Early recognition, intervention, and referral are critical to getting someone help and preventing something tragic from happening. If you find yourself worried or alarmed about an individual who is distressed or troubled, you should speak with a workplace behavior specialist at Employee Assistance. Taking action can save a job, a career, and make you feel better! If an individual’s behavior appears to be an imminent threat to safety, contact University Police at 716-645-2222.

Signs and Symptoms of Distress or Trouble

  • Extreme anxiety or panic
  • Increased irritability, anger, rage or other aggressive behavior
  • Conversations, emails or other written material with themes of hopelessness, social isolation, rage, or despair
  • Bizarre thinking
  • Direct suicidal thoughts or statements
  • Expressing a wish or intent to injure others
  • Scary talk of guns, bridges, or other volatile topics
  • Changes in personal hygiene, work performance, or social behavior
  • Person isolates themselves, or stays away from others
  • Excessive use of alcohol or other drugs

Are there other factors?

  • Colleagues expressing fear, concern, or worry about the co-worker
  • Your “gut sense,” that something is seriously wrong or dangerous

How You Can Help — Simple Guidelines

A distressed or troubled person may not know how to ask for help. You can express your concerns in a caring, nonjudgmental way in a private place.

  • Remain respectful, calm, and patient
  • Find out if there are others with whom the distressed person has spoken about the problem. Learn whether they have a support system
  • Express concern: “I am concerned; I am worried about you….”
  • Do offer resources such as EAP
  • Do not make promises, especially about confidentiality
  • Do not dismiss, minimize or rationalize your observations and concerns or think that someone else will deal with them

You are an important key to workplace performance and safety at UB! Don't ignore the behavior!

How to Make a Referral

  • Suggest that your colleague make an appointment with EAP, expressing confidence that he or she will get help
  • If you are uncomfortable approaching a co-worker or don't know exactly what you would say, you can call the EAP Office at 716-645-4461 for ideas 
  • You can help make an appointment or accompany your colleague, if both you and they are willing
  • If you think the situation is critical, call and say that your colleague needs urgent care
Intervening is important

Yes, it's true — there is usually a pattern of escalating behaviors and distress that, in retrospect, was observed by others.

Concerns usually don't get better on their own.

Services Offered Through EAP

EAP staff maintain an extensive referral network of community providers and resources for individuals or families that need specialized services or longer-term assistance. The following services are available to all faculty and staff members at no cost:

  • Confidential consultation
  • Expert intervention

EAP staff are available from 8:30 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and by special appointment. Non-urgent calls made outside of these hours will be answered the following morning.

Do not leave urgent messages on EAP voice mail. For emergenices, call UB Police at 716-645-2222.


With the exception of life and death emergencies, during which time the safety of any person may be at risk, all calls and visits are strictly confidential. 

Contact an Expert

We all need support sometimes. For confidential consultation or 1-on-1 meetings at no charge to you, referrals to specialists, and/or general information on how to help yourself or others manage personal and/or work-related concerns, please reach out to us.

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Phone: 716-645-4461