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Health & Wellness Services Division of Student Affairs

How to overcome the bystander effect

How to overcome the bystander effect

While most of us are sympathetic toward helping someone, the bystander effect can prevent us from stepping in. The bystander effect is when a group of people sees a problem or someone in need, but no one does anything to help.

Why don’t we help? One reason why people choose not to help is because they observe and follow what other people are doing. So if everyone is passing by and not paying attention, we conclude that what’s happening isn’t a big deal. After all, no one else looks concerned.

You’ve probably experienced a similar phenomenon in class. The professor asks if there are any questions, and since everyone else looks like they understand, you decide to not ask your question. When we follow social queues from others it becomes easy to make assumptions that are not true.

So what can you do? Next time you see someone who needs help, pay attention to your reaction. You might be tempted to ignore what’s happening because no one else is doing anything. Instead, stop and ask the person who appears to need help if they’re okay.

Another reason why people don’t help is because of the diffusion of responsibility. This is when you assume another person will step in or someone more qualified will help. And when there are more people present, like at a party, the less likely it is someone else will help.

If you notice something like possible symptoms of alcohol poisoning, a couple fighting, or something else that just doesn’t feel right, don’t wait for someone else to step in – take action immediately.

What can you do? Recruit a specific person and ask for their help. Then give that person a specific job like calling 911 or turning down the music.

Overcoming the bystander effect can be difficult, but the solution is to recognize these instinctive responses and decide to help anyway.

If you want to feel more confident in your ability to respond to someone who needs help, sign up for alcohol safety or bystander intervention training.

How to identify warning signs for suicide

How to identify warning signs for suicide

Knowing the warning signs for suicide can help you notice if someone you care about is at risk for suicide. When you’re familiar with these signs, you’ll know when to be concerned and you’ll feel more confident in your ability to help someone who’s struggling.

Warning signs for suicide are not black and white. Everyone is a little different and it’s possible for someone to experience some or all of the typical warning signs.

The key to noticing warning signs for suicide is to look for changes in a person’s mood or regular behavior. These changes are often most apparent to close friends and family members.

Warning signs for suicide

  • Hopelessness
  • Intense or uncontrolled anger or seeking revenge
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking or without caring about consequences
  • Feeling trapped or like there’s no way out
  • Verbal hints such as, “I won’t be around much longer.”
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society
  • Anxiety, agitation, inability to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic mood or personality changes
  • Expressing no reason for living or no sense of purpose in life
  • Giving away things that are meaningful, putting affairs in order
  • Seeking access to potentially lethal means (guns, knives, pills, high windows, etc.)
  • Becoming suddenly cheerful after a period of depression
  • Talking about death and suicide

These warning signs are provided by The Jed Foundation.

If you think someone you care about is showing warning signs for suicide, ask them, “How are you doing?” and “Are you experiencing thoughts of suicide?”

Asking someone if they’re struggling with thoughts of suicide won’t put them at risk. And most importantly – it creates an opportunity to offer support and share resources.

Try to not let the fear of a “yes” answer prevent you from asking someone about thoughts of suicide. If this happens, be sure to get appropriate professional help. Counseling and Psychological Services or the National Suicide Lifeline can provide support or if it’s an emergency, you can call 911.

It’s okay for you to feel uncertain about what to say or do when someone expresses that they’re having thoughts of suicide. But the best thing you can do is to get help right away, and stay with them until appropriate care resources are present.

If someone answers “no,” but you’re unsure about their response, try to offer support resources like Counseling and Psychological Services. You can also try reframing your question or check in with that person later.

If you want more information about how to help someone who’s struggling with suicide, please sign up for our suicide prevention training, Campus Connect.

Suicide prevention training available online

Suicide prevention training available online

Research shows the majority of college students who choose to tell someone they’re having suicidal thoughts talk to a friend, roommate, or romantic partner.1 That’s why it’s critical to prepare WSU students to respond to someone in crisis.

As part of our broader suicide prevention efforts, we’re working to train as many students, faculty, and staff as possible through our Campus Connect program. Starting this summer, Campus Connect is available online through our partnership with Global Campus.

Online training gives every Coug access to reliable resources and information related to suicide, and establishes a permanent resource they can refer back to. Offering the program online also ensures that WSU students on campuses throughout Washington and all over the world have access to suicide prevention training.

Anyone with a WSU ID number can access free, full-length suicide prevention training online.  To attend, Campus Connect you can visit the Global Campus website. You can also request brochures typically provided during training.

Please note the activities in this training were modified to suit the needs of a virtual audience. Campus Connect is an interactive training and most effective in-person. Suicide is a challenging and highly personal topic and reactions to talking about issues surrounding mental health and suicide can vary significantly.

If you have more questions or concerns about this topic or training, please email Victoria Braun at Victoria.braun@wsu.edu

1. Drum, Brownson, Burton Denmark, and Smith, 2014 – “New Data on the Nature of Suicidal Crises in College Students: Shifting the Paradigm.” pg. 218

Take action to prevent violence

group of students

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and WSU students are ready to take action to prevent violence!

According to 2016 climate assessment data, 67 percent of WSU students feel confident in their ability to take action to reduce interpersonal violence. When asked why they would take action, 78 percent said they feel it’s their responsibility to make people in their community safer.

We’re clearly committed to helping one another! But it can be easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to taking concrete action. What can we do to help? How can we make a real difference?

At Health & Wellness Services, we believe that every single one of us can help make our community safer. One person can’t do everything, but we can all do something. Here are some simple ways you can get involved in addressing violence in our community this month (and throughout the rest of the year!)

  1. Read our blog post about how you can support survivors of sexual assault.
  2. Make sure you know WSU’s Executive Policy #15 prohibiting discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct.
  3. Get familiar with the confidential and university resources
  4. Request a resource poster or print a message of support to hang in your hall, classroom, or Greek residence.
  5. Add Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse’s 24- hour emergency and support service phone number for survivors of family and sexual violence to your contacts: 1-877-334-2887.
  6. Visit the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs for tools and materials you can personalize and use for social media and events. Materials are available in four different languages!
  7. Check out #SAAM on your social media of choice to find info and resources you can share with friends and family.
  8. Follow Coug Health and Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse on Facebook for more info on violence prevention efforts in our community.
  9. Attend a Green Dot bystander training and learn how to safely intervene in a potentially dangerous situation and prevent violence from happening.
  10. Sign up for updates on violence prevention and other health news and resources.

These are just a few ways each of us can take action, and get connected to helpful resources in our community. If we work together, we can put an end to violence and make our campus a safer place.

This post, originally published in April 2016, has been updated with new resources and information.

Cougs support survivors of violence

two students talking

Here at WSU, Cougs help Cougs. Our community cares deeply about supporting and encouraging one another in all areas of our lives. This way of thinking is especially important when it comes to supporting survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking. How we respond to survivors can have a huge impact on how they feel about their experience and what actions they take as they heal.

When someone tells you about their experience, it can be incredibly tough to know what to say and do. If you find yourself in that situation, remember what matters most: listen, believe, and support.

Listen. The most important thing you can do is listen without judgment. Even asking too many detailed questions can feel critical. Let the survivor tell their story at their own pace, with the details they feel comfortable providing. For some survivors, sharing their story is an important part of healing. Listening non-judgmentally and offering empathy will help them to feel safe and cared for.

Believe. People rarely make up stories of violence. Believe the survivor. If they say they were hurt, then they were. Assure your friend that it’s not their fault, no matter what happened, and that you believe and want to support them.

Support. Survivors can experience a range of emotions that are all normal. Encourage your friend to access support services, but let them decide if and when they want to use the resources you offer. You can find a comprehensive list of confidential and university resources from the Office of Equal Opportunity. If you’re able to and feel comfortable, you can offer to go with them. Everyone responds differently, and survivors’ needs may change over time. Check in with your friend occasionally and offer support again.

These conversations can be incredibly difficult and emotional. After talking with a friend about their experience with violence, you may want to consider seeking resources or support for yourself as well.

Supporting survivors is just one way Cougs take action against sexual assault and interpersonal violence in our community. Check out this list of simple steps you can take to help prevent violence and make our campus a safer place.

Do you want more information on how to make our campus safer? Sign up to receive news and resources for preventing violence in our community.

This post, originally published in April 2016, has been updated with new resources and information.

Identifying abusive relationships

Identifying abusive relationships

We’re often in a good position to spot abusive behaviors in our friends’ relationships. But some of the signs of unhealthy relationships can look a lot like normal couple interactions. How can you tell the difference?

It can be hard to know for sure whether someone else is in a healthy relationship, but having a foundational understanding of abusive behaviors will help you notice potential warning signs and take action to help your friend if they need it.

First, let’s look at some examples of what normal couples experience.

Jealousy. It’s totally normal to feel a little upset it we see someone else flirting with our partner.

Conflict. It’s true – every relationship has conflict. We all have different perspectives and life experiences, and sometimes we clash.

Spending less time with friends. This is especially common early on in a relationship when you want to spend every waking minute together.

While these are often normal behaviors in a relationship, at what point might they be signs of abuse? Take a closer look. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do those feelings of jealousy pass after both people talk about how they’re feeling? Or do they lead one person to act possessive and controlling over their partner?
  • When conflict arises, do both people have an equal say, and do they both feel comfortable expressing how they truly feel? Or does one person hold back their feelings for fear of upsetting their partner?
  • Do both partners seem happy when they see each other? Do they both light up when they get millions of texts from their partner, or do they get frustrated, or even scared, when they get these messages?
  • Are partners spending all of their time together because they both want to? Or because one person demands it of the other?

Close friends are often in the best position to spot abusive behaviors in someone else’s relationship. The key is to pay attention and if you see or hear something that makes you uncomfortable – it’s time to check in. Start by just asking your friend, “How are things going in your relationship?”

Try and put yourself in your friend’s position. You would probably want someone to step in, offer support, and help you identify potential resources and options. You can be that person for your friend.

Everyone can do something to make our campus a safer place! To learn more about how you can help, sign up for a bystander training.

Direct, delegate or distract to prevent violence

We’ve all been there before – you’re walking across campus and you see another student in a situation where they might need some help. Maybe you overhear a couple arguing, or see someone who looks really upset about the phone call they just received.

Most of us want to help when we see a situation that concerns us, but we often feel unable to do something to help.

So what stops us from helping in these moments? We all face barriers that keep us from taking action, even when we really want to or think we should.

You may have experienced one of these common barriers:

  • There are other people around who will probably do something, so I don’t have to.
  • I don’t want to embarrass myself.
  • No one else noticed or is doing anything.
  • I don’t want to get hurt.
  • My friends will give me a hard time if I do something.
  • I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.
  • I’m shy.
  • I hate conflict.
  • It’s none of my business.
  • I don’t want to get involved.

These kinds of thoughts are completely normal. Depending on the specific situation and our individual preferences, we all experience different barriers to taking action.

But, there are many ways to intervene in a situation that concerns you. You may still be able to find a way to help that feels achievable.

Consider these three approaches, and think about which ones you might be able to use next time you see someone in an unsafe situation.

Direct – do something yourself.  Approach the person you’re concerned about and ask, “Hey, what’s going on here?” or “Are you okay?” or “Do you need help?”

Delegate – ask someone else for help. Ask a friend, residence hall advisor or mentor to step in. If necessary, call the police.

Distract – Diffuse the situation by diverting people’s attention. Pretend you are lost and ask for directions. Tell people there’s free food in the CUB. Start a conversation about an unrelated topic.

Interested in learning more about how you can take action to prevent violence? Request a workshop for your group, chapter, residence hall or department.

Know the signs of toxic drinking

know the signs of toxic drinking

Do you know how to tell the difference between a little too much to drink and a dangerous situation?

Many students at WSU choose not to drink. In a 2016 survey, more than 18 percent of WSU students said they’ve never used alcohol and another 14 percent said they haven’t used alcohol in the past 30 days.

However, even if you don’t drink or use alcohol in moderation, knowing when to get help for a friend can be critical. In the same survey, more than 85 percent of students said most of the time or every time they party, they stick with the same group of friends all night. Learning the signs of toxic drinking will help you know when it’s time to get help for a friend or acquaintance.

Watch out for these signs of toxic drinking. Seek medical attention for a person who:

  • Is passed out or semi-conscious and cannot be awakened;
  • Vomits while sleeping or passed out and does not wake up;
  • Has cold, clammy, pale or blueish skin; or
  • Is breathing slowly or irregularly.

If you suspect an alcohol overdose, call 911 right away. Be sure to call at the first sign of alcohol poisoning. Waiting for them to show more signs is extremely dangerous. It’s also incredibly risky to assume they’ll be fine if they just sleep it off.

If you’re worried about getting in trouble, keep in mind that WSU’s Office of Student Conduct follows a Good Samaritan Guideline that will protect you and your friend from university discipline for alcohol or drug use if you call for assistance. This guideline mirrors similar Washington state laws followed by law enforcement.

If you’re interested in finding out more about how to help someone with an alcohol overdose, we offer CPR & Alcohol Safety workshops. Sign up to get your CPR certification, learn how to recognize alcohol-related medical emergencies and gain the skills and confidence to respond.