Tips for faculty & staff: Addressing the Student in distress

This information is provided to assist you in becoming aware of signs of a distressed student, things that you might do to help the student, signs of suicidal ideation, and when and how to make effective referrals for additional help.

Tips for Recognizing Troubled Students

At one time or another, everyone feels depressed or upset. However, there are three levels of student distress which, when present over a period of time, suggest that the problems are more than the "normal" ones.

Level 1

Although not disruptive to others in your class, residence hall or elsewhere, these behaviors may indicate that something is wrong and a student may need help:

·        Serious grade problems

·        Unaccountable change from good to poor performance

·        Change from frequent attendance to excessive and/or frequent absences

·        Change in pattern of interaction with others

·        Marked change in mood, motor activity, or speech

·        Marked change in physical appearance or hygiene

·        “Stow-a-ways”—the student who spends most of the time in his/her room and almost never interacts with


Level 2

These behaviors may indicate a student is experiencing significant emotional distress or is reluctant or unable to acknowledge a need for personal help:

·        Repeated request for special consideration (multiple family illnesses, etc.)

·        New or regularly occurring behavior which pushes the limits and may interfere with class management or be

disruptive to others

·        Unusual or exaggerated emotional response

·        Bullying or intimidating behavior toward you or other students


·        A preoccupation with graphic violence and/or death and dying as reflected in his/her language, journals,

papers, etc.

Level 3

These behaviors may usually show that the student is in crisis and needs emergency care:

·        Highly disruptive behavior (hostility, aggression, etc.)

·        Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech, disjointed thoughts)

·        Loss of contact with reality (seeing/hearing things that are not there, beliefs or actions at odds with reality)

·        Overt suicidal thoughts (suicide is a current option and/or a “plan” is discussed)

·        Homicidal threats(threats of imminent harm to you or someone else)

What You Can Do To Help

Responses to Level 1/Level 2 Behaviors

·        Talk to the student in private when you both have time

·        Express your concern in non-judgmental terms

·        Listen to the student and repeat the gist of what the student is saying

·        Ask the student to generate optional ways to deal with your concerns

·        Clarify the costs and the benefits of each option for handling the problem from the student's point of view

·        Respect the student's value system

·        Ask if the student is considering harming himself/herself

·        Make sure the student understands what action is necessary

·        Make appropriate referrals if necessary

·        Keep notes of your conversation

·        Complete an on-line BIT form if the situation doesn’t improve.

Responses to Level 3 Behavior

·        Stay calm

·        Call emergency referral listed below

Do's and Don'ts in Responding to Suicidality

·        DO show that you take the student's feelings seriously

·        DO let the student know that you want to help

·        DO listen attentively and empathize

·        DO reassure that with help he/she will recover

·        DO stay close until help is available or risk has passed. If not possible, ensure that a responsible person

remains with the student 

·        DON'T try to shock or challenge the student

·        DON'T analyze the student's motives

·        DON'T become argumentative

·        DON'T react with shock or disdain at the student's thoughts and feelings

·        DON'T minimize the student's distress

·        DON’T make promises of confidentiality when a life is involved

When to Make a Referral

Even though a student asks you for help with a problem and you are willing to help, there are circumstances when you should suggest other resources:

·        You are not comfortable in handling the situation

·        Personality differences may interfere with your ability to help

·        You know the student personally (friend, neighbor, friend of a friend) and think you may not be objective

enough to help

·        The student is reluctant to discuss the situation with you

·        You see little progress in the student

·        You feel overwhelmed or pressed for time

How to Make a Referral

To the student:

·        Be frank with the student about the limits of your time, ability, expertise, and/or objectivity

enough to help

·        Let the student know that, because you care, you think he/she should get assistance from another source.

Based on the response from the student, some alternatives to communicating your concern are listed below:

    • Assure them that many students seek help over the course of their college career, and that it is a sign of strength, not weakness, to utilize counseling services
    • Remind them that seeking counseling is never reflected on one’s transcripts (a common misunderstanding)
    • Try to help the student know what to expect if he/she follows through on the referral, and if time permits, offer to accompany them to the Counseling office--- if the student agrees
    • If the student is open to counseling but would rather be seen off-campus, please call the Counseling Center at 923-8799 and we will be happy to suggest resources in the Fond du Lac area and beyond

Consider these questions before making the referral:

·        What are the appropriate and available resources for the student?

·        With whom would the student feel most comfortable?

·        Who will make the initial contact, you or the student?

Consultation is Available

If you have concerns about a student, counselors in Counseling Services are available for consultation. Some of the ways we might help include:

·        Assessing the seriousness of the situation

·        Suggesting potential resources

·        Finding the best way to make a referral

·        Clarifying your own feelings about the student and the situation

Counseling Services

Any currently enrolled student may use Counseling Services. Students are encouraged to make their own appointments, if possible. Because many students use our services, there may be a wait, from a few hours to a few days, before seeing a counselor. In crisis situations, however, we will assist any student immediately. Be sure to tell the person scheduling the appointment that the situation is urgent or, if you are calling for the student, identify yourself and request to speak to the counselor. At the student's first visit to the Counseling Center, information and consent forms will be filled out prior to the first session. During the first appointment, the counselor will begin to assess the student's needs and then determine the most effective way of helping. Options may include counseling or a referral to another provider in the Fond du Lac and surrounding area.



In an Emergency

Try to stay calm. Find someone to stay with the student while calls are made.

For students expressing a direct threat to themselves or others, or who act in a disruptive, a bizarre, or a

highly irrational way (Level 3), call any or all of the following numbers:  

923-8555 (MARIAN ONE STOP)



                  For students who exhibit severe anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, or any other intense emotional disturbance, but for whom no immediate harm seems likely, call:

Ellen Mercer, Counseling Center---------------------------------------------- 923-8799 or 923-8112


Sr. Marie Scott, Director, Campus Ministry-------------------------------------------------- 923-7624

Paul Krikau, Dean of Student Engagement----------------------------------------------------923-7666



Adapted from