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Crisis support

The Psychological Support and Wellbeing Service is not an emergency service.

If you don't know where to turn in an emergency or out of hours, here are a number of options:

  • call 118 for an ambulance
  • call 113 for the police
  • go to the emergency ward (pronto soccorso) at any hospital
  • +39 067 720 8977 for Italian Samaritans
  • 19696 Telefono azzurro Emergency number for emergencies related to kids, adolescents and families
  • +39 022 3272 327 Telefono amico, for emotional emergencies

Not all emergency services and doctors speak English. If possible, ask a local person to help you with your call.

Mental health problems

Mental health is about how we think, feel and behave. Being mentally healthy means being able to fully participate in everyday life, at work, with friends and with family. When faced with problems, obstacles or difficulties in life we all tend to tackle them and behave in different ways. Some people bounce back whilst others can struggle for longer.

Mental health problems are common, estimated to affect as many as 1 in 7 people* worldwide at some point in life. They include common mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, to more severe problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Mental health problems can affect everyone regardless of people’s socio-demographic characteristics. They are not indicators of individual weakness or failure. Stressful events, biological factors or life experiences can give rise to a variety of symptoms.

Mental health in academia

Concerns about mental health in the research community have been growing in recent years as research has extensively proved how mental health difficulties are prevalent and widespread among early career researchers compared to the general population.

Work-life conflict, financial concerns, transition and adjustment to new environments along with feelings of isolation and uncertainty about the future are all potential stressor that may contribute to the development of such difficulties.

European University Institute

Coming to work or study at the European University Institute presents a unique set of challenges to the individual or the family. Learning to adapt to the cultural differences and to the way things work in Italy can be more difficult than many imagine at the outset of their move. Having to learn Italian and create a support network can be a drawn out difficult process that may well be overlooked or underestimated. Just as managing daily life difficulties without the support of immediate family and friends can heighten people’s emotional vulnerability and therefore risk of developing mental health difficulties.

Despite the fact that lots of people struggle with mental health difficulties there is a strong stigma attached to them. This often means that people fear discussing their difficulties with others and to people feeling more comfortable avoiding asking someone if they are ok or fearing making someone’s problems worse if they talk to them about it. However, this can lead to the person struggling feeling more isolated, not understood and withdrawn. It also perpetuates the stigma associated with mental health difficulties.

How do I know if someone has mental health difficulties?

First of all, be aware of any life events that someone has shared with you. If someone lets you know that they have experienced a death in the family, a break up or that they are worried about an event that they have to face or a difficulty that they are concerned about, then this may well be something that they need to talk about more.

You don’t really need to know if someone has mental health difficulties as such but there can be a number of signs to watch out for which can be an indication that someone is struggling.

People experiencing low mood often feel unable to complete activities that they would normally have no difficulty with. They may feel less confident about themselves or become more withdrawn and less of a participant in academic or work life. The quality of their work may well slip or they may struggle to meet deadlines that they would normally meet. They may well stop doing activities that they would normally enjoy or just generally be more nervous, tearful and irritable. You may notice that they pay less attention to their personal appearance or report feeling tired or finding it hard to sleep or sometimes finding themselves oversleeping. People struggling with low mood can also experience changes to appetite eating more or less than they usually do.

Whilst people experiencing high levels of anxiety may appear to have difficulty concentrating, may avoid certain situations, be particularly jumpy or irritable.

Some people, often secretly, manage distress by self-harming as they find that this numbs the emotional pain that they are experiencing.

Other people can come across as being particularly agitated and preoccupied. Whilst some experiencing severe mental health difficulties may have periods when they are clearly experiencing and interpreting reality in a very different way to our own.

In all these cases, it is important not to wait, as the longer someone struggles with a mental health difficulty, the harder it becomes to overcome. Often people wait, hoping that the person will come to talk to them about the difficulties that they are noticing. In many cultures, having a mental health problem is perceived to be a weakness and so people can often feel ashamed of not being able to overcome the difficulty by themselves. Often people feel contained and understood and a huge amount of relief when someone notices their distress, asks them about it and enables them to talk more about the problem that they are experiencing.

If you would like to talk to the person that you are concerned about then there are a few helpful things that you can do. Try to set aside time to talk in a quiet place. Trying to discuss someone’s difficulties in a busy public place with distractions or the risk of being overheard is not going to be helpful.

Often it is more about listening in a non-judgemental way and understanding than it is about solving. When a person is experiencing difficulties, that they have found impossible to resolve on their own, they will have already tried to think about many of the common sense suggestions that you may want to give them. Some people’s difficulties may seem incomprehensible or easily resolvable to you but try to hold that thought. Some people may fear things that you find easy in life just as you may fear things that others find easy in life. So try not to judge the person given what they are sharing with you.

The discussion does not need to lead to a diagnosis or to a solution-focused place so just let the person share what they are happy to share with you. Listen carefully to what a person says and try repeating back to them what you have understood as a way of letting the person know you are listening and checking your understanding of their situation.

Do not offer absolute confidentiality if you are concerned for someone. Often people feel more comfortable to talk in absolute confidence, but this is not always possible, particularly if you are fearful that the person may be at risk of suicide or in a dangerous situation. If you have promised absolute confidentiality then you might end up feeling very worried about the person but be unable to DO anything about it. You could suggest that whilst you cannot promise absolute confidentiality you will only share information relevant to risk with the relevant professional (for e.g. with a GP or psychiatrist).

If you feel it to be appropriate, offer support to the individual in finding the right help. Often people worry about coming to the Counselling and Wellbeing Service so you could offer to write us an email together or you could offer to accompany the person to their first session with one of the counsellors. If the person is worried about coming to talk to our service we are in touch with many mental health professionals and we can be helpful in signposting people to the relevant service in Florence or further afield. We have also compiled a list of therapists who work in different languages, which can be very helpful to people at times.

Emergency cases – How do I respond in a crisis?

People with mental health problems sometimes experience a crisis, such as breaking down in tears, having a panic attack, feeling suicidal, or experiencing their own or a different reality.

You may feel a sense of crisis too, but it is important not to get caught up in this feeling of urgency so try to stay calm yourself.

There are some general strategies that you can use to help:

  • Listen without making judgements and concentrate on their needs in that moment.
  • Ask them what would help them.
  • Reassure and signpost to practical information or resources.
  • Avoid confrontation.
  • Ask if there is someone they would like you to contact.
  • Encourage them to seek appropriate professional help.
  • If they have hurt themselves, make sure they get the first aid they need.
  • Seeing, hearing or believing things that no-one else does can be the symptom of a mental health problem. It can be frightening and upsetting. Gently remind the person who you are and why you are there. Don’t reinforce or dismiss their experiences, but acknowledge how the symptoms are making them feel

What if I think the person may harm him/herself or someone else?

  • If there are immediate concerns for the person’s safety, take them to the nearest hospital emergency department if you can do so safely.
  • If the person is unwilling to go to the hospital, call 118. Explain that it is a mental health emergency

* Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network. Global Burden of Disease Study 2016 (GBD 2016) Results. Seattle, United States: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), 2017.

Page last updated on 03/03/2023

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