Why you are so important during a crisis

You are in an important position to help your student who is in crisis and distress. You may be the first to notice changes or hear about early signs of distress. Your student is apt to turn to you, especially if he/she perceives you as available and willing to listen and as someone who does not panic or trivialize their problems. Your expressions of interest and concern may be critical factors in saving your student’s academic career or even their life. If you are aware of Counseling Center services, you can refer your student to the Counseling Center for additional support and assistance.

Possible warning signs of a Student in Distress


  • Deterioration in academic performance
  • Missed assignments or appointments
  • Repeated absences from classes/labs


  • Marked changes in concentration or motivation
  • Marked change in appearance and physical behavior
  • Excessive fatigue/change in normal sleep patterns
  • Visible increase or decrease in weight
  • Exaggerated personality traits or behaviors (agitation, withdrawal, lack of apparent emotion – general apathy)
  • Unprovoked anger or hostility
  • Irritability, constant anxiety, worrying, and/or tearfulness
  • Excessive use of alcohol and/or other drugs
  • Self injury (e.g. cutting wrists, legs, arms/other body parts, cigarette burns, etc.)

Other Signs

  • Your sense, however vague, that something is seriously amiss
  • Dependency or seeking a lot of your attention
  • Direct statements indicating social and academic problems, personal losses, break-up, etc.
  • Isolation from friends, family
  • Written notes, emails, or verbal statement that convey a sense of hopelessness or futility or finality
  • Impulsivity, a departure from the norm
  • Statements about harming self
  • Statements about harming others, destructive acts (e.g. setting fire to a building, destroying property, etc.)

Talking with your Distressed Student

Listen carefully and sensitively to their thoughts and feelings in a non-threatening manner.

  • Find a place and time where you have adequate privacy and when both of you are not rushed or preoccupied
  • Give your student your undivided attention
  • Communicate understanding by repeating back the essence of what they have told you
  • Let your student talk; don’t minimize or immediately provide reassurance. Telling her/him that things aren’t that bad or they have everything to live for may discourage further disclosure and may increase their sense of guilt and hopelessness
  • Praise them for being open and honest with you
  • Encourage your student to come to the Counseling Center

Your Response

  • Be direct, specific, non-judgmental, especially when expressing your concern
  • Avoid evaluating, criticizing, or offering advice even if your student asks for your opinion
  • Invite your student to share their ideas about how to resolve their concerns before offering your suggestions. If the areas of concern are unfamiliar to you work with your student to gather pertinent information
Reprinted with permission from Georgetown University, Counseling and Psychiatric Services, for formatting and content ideas.