Emotional Distress

Spring Bloom

Responding to Emotionally Distressed Students

As a member of the University community, you have ongoing and direct contact with students. This places you in a position to identify students who are struggling with personal and/or academic concerns. How involved you want to be in the student's problems will likely depend on how you see your role in the University, your training, your experience, and your personality. These guidelines, your knowledge of the services available, and your awareness of your personal attributes can help you become more comfortable with determining when and how you wish to intervene with students.

All students will experience some level of stress. Some will face life events that are especially challenging such as:

  • significant changes in a relationship
  • the death of someone close
  • family crises
  • physical illness

Others will face challenges related to:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • suicidal thoughts
  • anger
  • substance use
  • psychosis

How students respond to these challenges and how these challenges impact their academic functioning will vary greatly based on their coping abilities and personal circumstances.

If you encounter a student experiencing emotional distress, please refer them to the CARE Team to request support.


**If you believe that a student is at imminent risk of harm to self or others, please contact Public Safety immediately at 206-296-5911**

  • Excessive procrastination and poorly prepared work, especially if inconsistent with previous work.
  • Infrequent class attendance with little or no work completed.
  • Inability to focus or concentrate.
  • Unusual dependency: hanging around or making excessive demands for contact outside of normal periods of association.
  • Listlessness, frequently falling asleep in class or general lack of energy.
  • Repeated requests for special consideration.
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene.
  • High levels of irritability, including unruly, aggressive, violent, or abrasive behaviors.
  • Inability to make decisions despite your repeated efforts to clarify or encourage.
  • Excessive weight gain or loss.
  • Normal emotions that are displayed to an extreme degree or for a prolonged period of time: for example, tearfulness or nervousness.
  • Impaired or garbled speech and disjointed thinking.
  • Threats to others.
  • Reference to suicide as a current option.
  • Bizarre behavior that is obviously inappropriate, such as talking to "invisible people."
  • Social withdrawal.
  • The issue is outside your range of knowledge or expertise.
  • Helping the student could compromise or change the status of your relationship with the student (perhaps it is too personal).
  • The student feels uncomfortable talking with you about the issue.
  • You feel the differences between you and the student are such that you cannot help him or her.
  • You feel overwhelmed, overly responsible for and worried about the personal safety of the student.
  • The student's behavior is a significant and ongoing disturbance to others.
  • You are extremely busy or are experiencing stress in your own life and are unable or unwilling to handle the student's needs.
  • You have talked to the student and helped as much as you can but further assistance is needed.
  • You think that your personal feelings about the student would interfere with your ability to be helpful.
  • The student admits there is a problem but does not want to talk to you about it.
  • The student asks for information or assistance which you are unable to provide.

Submit a CARE Team Referral

  • Ask to see the student in private, if you feel safe in doing so.
  • Speak to the student in a straightforward fashion that shows concern for their wellbeing and focuses on observable behaviors.
  • Express your concern in a non-judgmental manner.
  • Ask if the student is talking with anyone (friends or family) about the problem, pointing out that isolation is rarely useful when dealing with problems. Listen carefully.
  • Let the student know that counseling is accessible, free and confidential. Refer them to Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS), the Student Health Center, and TimelyCare.

The following are potential strategies to use when encouraging a student to seek services at Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS)

  • Reassure the student that therapists at CAPS work with people with a wide range of concerns.
  • Inform the student that all therapists at CAPS are licensed professionals.  Students do not work at CAPS, nor does CAPS offer peer counseling.
  • Problems need not reach crisis proportions for students to benefit from professional help.
  • Normalize help-seeking behavior; many students utilize services at CAPS.
  • Inform students that they can speak with a therapist on a one-time basis without making a commitment to ongoing therapy.
  • Inform students that information shared at CAPS is kept strictly confidential within CAPS and will not be disclosed to parents, faculty, other University departments, or even you, except with the student's written permission or as required by law.
  • Acknowledge, validate and discuss the student's real fears and concerns about seeking help.

In some cases, you may find that the student has already sought counseling services at CAPS, or elsewhere, and was dissatisfied with the experience. There are many reasons why therapy may not be successful in a given situation. Please encourage the student to consider giving therapy another try, perhaps with a different therapist at CAPS, or to seek off-campus referrals through our office.

While it is important to care about the emotional well-being of students, we cannot make their decisions for them, and therapy is always a personal choice. Occasionally even your best efforts to encourage a student to seek therapy will be unsuccessful. If the student resists referral and you remain uncomfortable with the situation, contact CAPS at (206) 296-6090 to discuss your concern.

Offer to accompany the student to Counseling & Psychological Services (Pavilion 120) or the Student Health Center (Bellarmine 107).  Remember that TimelyCare offers mental health support through the "Talk Now" feature 24/7.

If you feel that you would benefit from discussing the situation with one of our clinicians, please contact our office to get consultation.  We can assist you with identifying helpful resources on campus and how refer the student to CAPS. Contact our office at 206-296-6090  to request consultation during business hours.

On evenings and weekends, contact Campus Public Safety at 206-296-5990 for assistance with any situations of concern.