How to Help a Student in Distress: For Faculty and Staff

How to Help a Student in Distress

For Faculty and Staff

Students experience stress for a variety of reasons. Academics, work, family, friendships, social isolation, financial concerns and national crisis are only some of those reasons.  Change, for all of us, is one of the top reasons for stress, whether it is positive or negative change.  Our students experience a variety of changes as they come to a university campus.

Sometimes, students will be open to sharing personal challenges with you, and it's important to be aware of your resources and how they can help a student.  Although the Student Counseling Center is available to help a student manage any level of stress, it is important to recognize the difference between a student who is stressed and a student who is in crisis.

A student who is experiencing Stress may exhibit some of the following behaviors:

  • Changes in academic performance
  • Changes in class attendance
  • Social withdrawal
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Requests for special consideration
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotion response to events
  • Change in Hygiene
  • Appearing to be down or lethargic

A student who is becoming Distressed may exhibit some of the following behaviors:

  • Drug abuse
  • Self-destructive behavior tendency
  • Depression/Anxiety
  • Unusual behavior
  • Suspiciousness
  • Irritability

If a student is in a serious mental health Crisis, you might see or hear:

  • Suicidal statements or suicide attempts
  • Written or verbal physical threats
  • Destruction of property
  • Highly disruptive behavior (hostility, aggression, violence)
  • Disorganized thoughts or speech (garbled or slurred speech, disjointed thoughts)
  • Loss of contact with reality (seeing or hearing things that aren't there)
  • Extreme anxiety resulting in panic attacks
  • Memory loss or disorientation


What You Can Do for a Student Experiencing Stress

  • Talk to the student in private when you have time and are not rushed or preoccupied.  
  • Be direct and nonjudgmental. Focus on behavior. Say things like "I've noticed you have been falling asleep in class, and I'm concerned.
  • Listen carefully and sensitively.
  • Show interest and concern.
  • Reflect and paraphrase the student's concern.
  • Limit constructive criticism.
  • Respect the student's values and beliefs.
  • Express the benefits of counseling and refer to the Student Counseling Center and/or submit a Patriot Strong Alert
  • Emphasize the student's voluntary participation, confidentiality of counseling and that it is free to currently enrolled students
  • Offer to walk with them to the Counseling Center to set up an appointment
  • Follow up with the student later to find out how they are doing and provide support as appropriate

What You Can Do for a Student Experiencing Distress

  • In addition to the above, consult with the CARE Team and file a report
  • Consult with the Student Counseling Center
  • Refer to the Crisis Hotline

What You Can Do for a Student in Crisis

  • Call the Crisis Hotline and have the student talk to a counselor or consult with the counselor yourself.
  • File a CARE Team report and/or call the Office of the Dean of Students.
  • If you believe there may be imminent danger of physical harm to themselves or someone else, as evidenced by several of the crisis symptoms listed above, immediately call UT Tyler Police Department at 9-1-1