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Supporting Students in Distress

Check In. “How are you doing?”

  • Talk to the student. Talk in private when you are able to give the student your undivided attention. It is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel comfortable about what to do next.
  • Be direct and nonjudgmental. Express your concern in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms. Be direct and specific. For example, say something like “I’ve noticed you’ve been absent from class lately, and I’m concerned,” rather than “Why have you missed so much class lately?”
  • Listen sensitively. Listen to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non-threatening way. Communicate understanding by repeating back the essence of what the student has told you. Try to include both content and feelings. For example, “It sounds like you’re not accustomed to such a big campus, and you’re feeling left out of things.” Remember to let the student talk.

Mention Resources

  • Refer. Point out that help is available, and that seeking help is a sign of strength. Make some suggestions about places to go for help. (See the list in the “Resources” section for ideas.) Tell the student what you know about the recommended person or service.
  • Take a walk. Consider walking the student to the Dean’s office or the Personal Counseling Center yourself if needed.

Encourage self-care. “What are you doing to take care of yourself?”

  • Follow up. This is an important part of the process. Check with the student later to find out how he or she is doing. Provide support as appropriate.
  • As appropriate, consider flexible arrangements, such as extensions on assignments, exams or deadlines.


  • Minimizing the student’s concerns (e.g., “Your grades are so good.”).
  • Providing so much information that it overwhelms the student.
  • Suggesting that students do not need treatment, or that their symptoms will stop without it.
  • Denying or ignoring your observations of the student’s academic or behavioral changes.
  • Assuming students are fully aware of the sources of their stress.
  • Assuming students know about resources that can help them.

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