I. Recognition of Students in Distress, Intervention, & Referral

The Counseling Center would like to welcome all faculty, staff, and administrators to our resources page. You are often key figures in the efforts of students in seeking help, and are, in some cases, more able to observe behaviors that might suggest a student in distress. Below are some signs of distress common in the college student population, as well as information on how to intervene with and refer students.

Academic Problems

  • Problems with grades
  • Excessive absences or lateness
  • Unusual interaction patterns (avoids participation, little or no eye contact, excessively anxious when called on)


  • Disruptive behavior
  • Exaggerated emotional response
  • Repeatedly asks for special consideration with assignments or exams
  • Falls asleep in class
  • Noticeable changes in personal hygiene
  • Dramatic weight gain or loss
  • Rapid speech
  • Extreme mood changes

In Crisis Behaviors

  • Highly disruptive behavior
  • Slurred or garbled speech
  • Disjointed thoughts
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
  • Beliefs at odds with reality
  • Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or threatening to hurt or kill someone else

Intervention Guidelines (Sharkin, 2006)

  • Right time & place
    • Private, safe, non-threatening
    • No distractions or interruptions
    • Should have telephone available
  • Share your observations & be direct
    • Not confrontational or punitive
    • Not tentative or cautious
    • Give observations of specific behaviors
    • Do not pressure student into admitting there is a problem
    • Be protective of identity of information source if not yourself
  • Express concern
    • Supportive but not judgmental –“I am concerned about you; are you okay?”
    • Do not minimize the issue –Don’t say, “You’ll be fine.”
    • Acknowledge issue & recommend student seek help.
  • Ask about past or current counseling experience
    • Assess student’s willingness to use counseling service on campus

Referral Process (Sharkin, 2006)

  • Be familiar with the Counseling Center location, staff members, hours
  • Establish positive expectations & try to avoid coloring your recommendation with personal therapy disappointments
  • Normalize counseling process to dispel fears & myths associated with stigma
  • Characterize going to Counseling Center as a strength rather than a weakness
  • Set stage for follow-up being aware of confidentiality
  • When more of a sense of urgency:
    • Call or drop in to the Counseling Center to speak with a counselor about concerns
    • E-mail Counseling Center with concerns
    • Give student Counseling Center contact information & offer to dial number for them to make an appointment
    • Offer to walk student to Counseling Center to make an appointment
    • Arrange for someone else on staff to escort student to Counseling Center

After referral:

  • We appreciate your trust in us when you make a referral, as well as your genuine concern & desire to follow-up on the student's well-being.
  • We are required by law and professional ethics to protect communication between the student and the Counseling Center mental health professionals, and ask that you follow-up with the student if you would like information following your referral.

II. Resources Available to You from the Counseling Center

The Counseling Center staff can provide presentations or workshops for your classrooms, teams, clubs or meetings on a wide range of topics. Examples include:

  • depression
  • anger management
  • anxiety
  • cyberbullying
  • healthy relationships
  • suicide
  • communication skills
  • substance abuse
  • social anxiety
  • loss & bereavement
  • dream interpretation
  • relaxation techniques
  • the transition from high school to college
  • the transition from college to the "real world" 

The Counseling Center can also present on any topic for a specialized audience; just ask and we will do our best to accommodate your needs.  Please give us suitable notice so that we might prepare your presentation.

Sharkin, B.S. (2006). College students in distress: A resource guide for faculty, staff, and campus community. New York: The Haworth Press.