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Role of Peers

Gannett Health Services
110 Ho Plaza
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-3101

Tel: 607 255-5155
Fax: 607 255-0269

Students talk with each other more (about anything and everything, including distress) than they do anyone else. Our research data confirm that stress at Cornell is real and that it affects students physically, emotionally and academically. Students often notice when a friend or peer is struggling, but may not know whether, or how, or when to initiate a conversation, listen, or offer support. 

Understand what's behind your concern

 When you are concerned about someone, it's helpful to think about what is contributing to your concern:

  • a known circumstance (e.g., you learn the person has recently ended a relationship, failed an important exam, or lost a family member)
  • general signs of distress you may have noticed, without knowledge of  what may be triggering the behavior
  • experiences or worries of your own that might be arousing your concern for someone else
  • something you anticipate might be upsetting to someone else

Get another perspective

Talking with someone else can be helpful in figuring out what is going on and what you want to do.

  • Parents, friends, professors, and advisors can be good resources for perspective and advice. 
  • EARS peer counselors are trained to listen carefully to concerns and help people clarify their own thoughts, feelings, and strategies.
  • Gannett's Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) has professional counselors who can be helpful, especially if your concerns have escalated to the point where you are anxious for someone else's safety or your worry is affecting your own health. You can talk with a counselor at a walk-in "Let's Talk" walk-in site on campus. Or, call CAPS during business hours at 255-5155, and ask to speak with a counselor regarding your concern for the well-being of another student. (This can be especially helpful if you are losing sleep or feeling anxious about the situation.)
  • If the situation feels urgent, call Gannett to speak with the counselor or health care provider on call.  
  • Call 911 for any situation that requires immediate intervention
    - alcohol or drug emergency
    - other imminent dangers to self or others

Express your concern

More often than not, saying something directly and from the heart to the person about whom you are concerned is the most important thing you can do.

Practice in your own mind so you can assume a compassionate and non-blaming manner. Avoid giving ultimatums or trying to pressure someone into changing or getting help.

  • Express your feelings using "I" statements.
    For example, you could say to a friend whose alcohol use concerns you, "I'm worried about you because I notice you're drinking more, and not making it to your morning classes anymore."  
  • Let the person know that you care about them and you want to help. 
  • Say things like “tell me more about…” 
  • Listen with your full attention. 
  • Be patient, and don’t jump to conclusions or offer quick solutions. 
  • Ask what they think might help. 
  • Share resources you are familiar with.

Make a connection

  • Don't take on more than you should: help the person connect with appropriate help.
  • Cornell has a number of resources to aid students who are struggling, including one who is trying to help. Review the list of referrals for students to determine a good starting place.
  • If you get stuck, remember that Gannett phone consultation is available 24/7.

Other ways to make a difference

  • Take care of yourself. Model balanced living (academics, rest, and fun) in your day to day life. Practice regular stress reduction techniques. Others will notice.
  • Develop a personal comfort level discussing stress, mental health/mental illness with others.Check out the mtvU “Half of Us” site where college students, as well as popular musicians share about their experiences with stress, depression, and anxiety.
  • Consider joining Cornell Minds Matter, a student-led group which hopes to demystify and de-stigmatize mental health/mental illness through programs, speakers and information blitzes. They welcome new comers to their meetings and events.

See Also

Stress management

Grief and loss following the death of a student 

Graduate & Professional Support

GPSA Student Advocacy Resource List


Concerned about a friend? 

This Huffington Post article "Dealing With Depression: From the Friend's Perspective," (4/14/16) provides some good advice.