• Recognize

    Recognize the signs or indications that students may be in distress.

  • Respond

    Tips on how to respond to signs of distress.

  • Refer

    Review the various options and resources to help you determine the appropriate next steps.


Recognize the signs of distress

Please review the most common signs of distress. Students may also present with indicators not listed.

  • Signs of physical abuse
  • Signs of self-injury
  • Interpersonal violence
  • Unprovoked anger or hostility
  • Implying or making a direct threat to harm self or others
  • Stalking or harassing
  • Disclosure of thoughts of death, suicide
  • Verbal abuse (e.g., taunting, badgering, intimidation)
  • Unresponsive or altered level of consciousness
  • Repeated absences and/or decline in quality of work or performance
  • Writings/creative work that include disturbing content and/or themes of despair, hopelessness, violence, death or aggression
  • Disorganized performance and/or repeated requests for extensions
  • Conduct that interferes with classroom, group work, or activity engagement
  • Frequent utilization of faculty/staff office hours for personal support
  • Marked changes in physical appearance
  • Excessive fatigue, listlessness
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Intoxication, hangover, smelling of alcohol, evidence of drug abuse
  • Disoriented or “out of it,” out of touch with reality
  • Garbled, rambling, tangential, disconnected or slurred speech
  • Behavior out of context or out of character for the individual
  • Self-disclosure of personal distress – family problems, financial difficulties, grief, shame
  • Excessive tearfulness, panic reactions, irritability or unusual apathy
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Expressions of concern about the student by peers
  • Concerning interpersonal communication style (e.g., withdrawn or agitated, mutters under breath, slow response time to questions)
  • Delusions and paranoia


Respond to the Signs of Distress

Use these important tips to determine the most appropriate response for a distressed student.

  1. Be direct
  2. Stick to the facts
  3. Don’t make assumptions
  4. Describe the changes you have noticed
  5. Ask if they are okay
  6. Listen!

Conversation Tips:

“I have missed you in class lately. Is everything okay?”

“You have seemed down the past few classes. Is there anything you want to talk about?”

  1. Let them know you are there for them
  2. Be patient and listen
  3. Maintain eye contact
  4. Offer help where you can
  5. Ask what they need
  6. Remove distractions
  7. Summarize what they say

Conversation tips:

“It sounds like you are really overwhelmed! Is there anything I can do to help out?”

“I’m hearing you describe that you’ve been really sad.”

  1. Listen!
  2. Provide a space to be heard
  3. Be curious, ask questions
  4. Be present and patient
  5. Let them know they are not alone
  6. Affirm their feelings

Conversation tips:

“I would like to hear more about how you’ve been feeling.”

“That sounds really challenging.”

  1. Determine the need and resources
  2. Reaffirm your support and care
  3. Connect them to resources
  4. Follow up

Conversation tips:

“It sounds like you’ve really be struggling. Have you thought about utilizing the counseling center? I have heard great things about it from other students.”

“Thank you for sharing your experience. I am not an expert in this area, but I know someone who might be able to help. Would it be okay if I put you in contact with them?”


Referring a student in distress

Choose from the options below to determine who to contact when you are concerned about a student who is distressed and/or disruptive.

  • YES The student is at immediate risk of harming self or others, is incoherent or unresponsive, is in extreme distress, or is causing extreme distress to others. I do not feel comfortable with the student being alone. Or, I have significant concerns about this student and cannot determine if they are at imminent risk.
  • Call 508-565-5555 if the student is ON CAMPUS or you are unsure of student’s location. Call 9-1-1 if the student is OFF CAMPUS. After the student has connected to emergency resources, submit a Needs Assessment Team Referral Form.
  •  This is not an emergency, however, the student is showing signs of distress and the issue is impacting multiple areas of the student’s life. I am concerned about them and want to get them more help soon. 
  • Consider the nature of the student’s distress and context-appropriate resources for consultation. Assist the student in connecting with the 24/7 Support Line through Counseling Services (508-565-1331, Option 2). Seek referral or consultation with Student Affairs or Academic Services & Advising. See Related Links on this page for additional support, including on-campus resources, reporting options, and hotlines/textlines. Submit a Needs Assessment Team referral. When in doubt, if you feel the situation is an emergency or can’t wait, call SCPD dispatch at 508-565-5555 to consult.
  • I’m not concerned for the student’s immediate safety, but I believe they are struggling with academic and/or personal issues and could benefit from some additional support. 
  • Refer to appropriate resources. Encourage the student to set up an appointment or assist them in doing so. See resource links by scrolling to the top or the bottom of this web page. Submit a Needs Assessment Team Referral Form and/or Academic Intervention Form, depending on situation. 

What's Next?

  • Reflect on your own boundaries, self-care and support needs. Utilize colleagues, supervisors and department heads for consultation and collaboration. Consult HR for information on professional development, wellness programs and employee assistance options that are available to support faculty/staff. 
  • Consider your status related to campus security requirements and if there are any Title IX- or crime-related reports you must file. 
  • Report students of concern to the Student Affairs Needs Assessment Team by filling out an online referral form or calling 508-565-1363.  While in your role respecting privacy is required under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), consulting about academic, safety, health and wellness concerns is allowable under FERPA. 
  • Circle back with the student after a referral to a support resource to check in.
  • Understand that due to privacy regulations, it may not always be possible for other campus resources to provide you with detailed information after a student referral.