How to Approach a Student in Distress

This information has been prepared to assist faculty and staff in the early identification and referral of students in distress.

Your willingness to respond to students in distress will be influenced by your personal style and your philosophy about the limits of a professor’s or staff member’s responsibility for helping students grow emotionally as well as intellectually. Obviously, a student’s openness to such assistance, as well as the location of the contact, and the depth of your relationship will impact the types of interactions you can have with a student. This information has been prepared to assist faculty and staff in the early identification and referral of students in distress.

Faculty is often on the front lines for students in distress. Students will often approach a faculty member about their problems before talking to a friend or family member.

Things to Remember When Talking to Distressed Students

  • Don’t get trapped into giving advice (e.g., “Why don’t you…?”)
  • Let the student, as much as possible, make his/her own decisions.
  • Let the student know you’re aware he/she is distressed and would like to help.
  • Tell the student your specific concern, using specific examples, (e.g., “I was concerned when you fell asleep in class today.”)
  • Don’t say “Don’t worry,” “Crying won’t help,” “It’s not that bad,” “I know exactly what you’re feeling,” or “Everything will be better tomorrow.”
  • Don’t be afraid of tears. Tears are a natural, healthy way to release emotions.
  • Be available to listen and to be concerned, but refer the student to Student Counseling Services or other appropriate agency if you get overwhelmed.

The Suicidal Student

Sometimes a student will talk about committing suicide. These types of statements should be taken very seriously. It is a myth that people who talk about suicide don’t attempt it. In fact, most people who have attempted suicide indeed talk about it first. If you suspect a student may be suicidal, asking will not “plant the idea” or make it more likely that the student will attempt suicide. Most often, students will be relieved that someone is recognizing the extent of their pain. If a student is suicidal, the student should be encouraged to seek help immediately. If the student refuses to seek services, call us and we will assist you in meeting the particular needs of the student. It is very important for you to remember that you are not responsible for the student’s actions.

The Violent Student

If a student threatens violence to you or others, please contact the City of Auburn Public Safety Department Police Division immediately (Emergency 911, Non-Emergency 501-3100). Safety is of utmost importance in these situations.