Counseling Services

How to Help a Student in Distress

How to Recognize a Student in Distress

A student in distress might indicate a need for assistance with:

  • Repeated requests for special consideration, extensions, etc.
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional responses
  • Withdrawal from activities or friends
  • Significant change in behavior, such as sleep or eating patterns
  • Declining academic performance
  • Excessive absences, especially if attendance was previously consistent
  • Perfectionism, procrastination, excessive worrying
  • Markedly changed patterns of interaction (avoiding participation or dominating discussion)

These signs might indicate a student in severe distress:

  • Depressed mood
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene; swollen, red eyes; falling asleep in class; excessively active and talkative
  • Inability to communicate
  • Garbled, slurred, disjointed or incoherent speech
  • Loss of contact with reality
  • Seeing/hearing things that do not exist
  • Suicidal thoughts or intentions
  • Overtly discussing, joking or hinting that suicide is a current and viable option
  • Highly disruptive behavior
  • Homicidal threats
  • Hostile, threatening or violent behavior

How to Share your Concern with a Student

If you have a concern, talk to the student first. The student may have an explanation for the behavior or may ask for assistance.

  • Talk to the student in private when both of you have time
  • Give the student undivided attention
  • Express your specific concern(s)
  • Share an observation “I’ve noticed you’ve been acting differently than you usually do and I’m concerned”
  • Listen in a non-judgmental, non-threatening way
  • Communicate your understanding by repeating back the core of what the student has said
  • Avoid judging, evaluating, or criticizing
  • Respect the student’s value system, even if you disagree

When to Make a Referral

You are encouraged to submit a Care team referral if students:

  • Do not respond appropriately when you share your concern
  • Exhibit erratic or sudden changes in classroom performance
  • Exhibit uncharacteristic behavioral, mood, attitude or appearance changes
  • Are uncharacteristically inattentive, unresponsive, angry, argumentative or aggressive
  • Exhibit behavior that is getting worse

You can always consult by calling Counseling Services when you:

  • Feel overwhelmed or unsure of how to proceed
  • If you feel that you are beginning to engage in treatment instead of gatekeeping
  • Need to talk with someone about your observations or concerns

How to Encourage Students to Seek Assistance

  • Let students know that it is not necessary to know exactly what is wrong in order to seek assistance; normalize help-seeking as a strength and that counseling is effective
  • Explain what the student can expect if they seek assistance from counseling, Title IX, etc.
  • Name counselors, suggest that students check out the website, assure confidentiality
  • Assure students that they are not taking resources from others by seeking help – there are enough resources for everyone, and prevention is better than waiting until it gets worse
  • Learn about resources so that you can suggest out of the box options for seeking help, see below.


Counseling Services: Heartmath biofeedback training, Relaxation Station, Ulifeline screening, website, Mindfulness drop-in session and classes, Counseling Groups

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