Recognizing Distress


Recognizing Distress

Students may communicate with you directly regarding their concerns or difficulties. However, it is common to struggle with identifying and communicating their distress. Here are some signs that may indicate a student experiencing distress:

  • Students has: 
    • poor performance in class or academic activities
    • excessive absences and tardiness
    • marked inattentiveness or sleepiness in class
    • marked change in behavior or mood (e.g., a usually positive and calm student is suddenly very worried and looks tearful all the time)
    • deterioration in personal care and hygiene
    • made statements about hurting themselves or other people.

Communicating Effectively

There are many helpful ways to assist a student. If you choose to talk to the student, or if you are approached by a student, here are some important things to remember:

  • Request to meet with the student in a relaxed, private setting (e.g. professor’s office).
  • Calmly let the student know why you are concerned in an open, direct, and non-judgmental manner.  
  • Describe the behaviors you have observed without making assumptions or premature conclusions.
  • Allow the student to respond to your concerns. Listen to the student’s thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non-threatening and non-judgmental way. 
  • Inquire about the student’s support system or availability of someone to speak to.
  • Refer students to appropriate resources if further support is needed.

In any case, if you are approached by a student of concern, your role is not to serve as a counselor, but rather to show concern and direct the student to Student Support & Advocacy at 212-678-3619 or via email at

Mental Health Emergencies

If you encounter a student with one of the following:

  1. Student makes statements about suicidal thoughts, intentions, or attempts AND/OR
  2. Imminent threats or aggressive behavior toward others AND/OR
  3. Incoherent or disjointed speech AND/OR
  4. Loss of contact with reality including hallucinations and delusions

you should take the following steps:

  • Do not leave the student alone.



  1. NYPD 911 for life-threatening concerns
  2. TC Public Safety at 212-678-3333 - 24h/7days for campus-related immediate support 
  3. CU Counseling & Psychological Services (CPS) at 212-854-2878 - 24h/7days, if a student experiences a mental health crisis
  4. Call 212-854-4357 - 24h/7days for gender-based violence concerns, sexual harrassment 
  • Importantly: be sure that YOU are safe.

Making a Referral to Student Wellness

Once you have a better understanding of the student’s situation and consider it is not an emergency, it may be appropriate to give the student information about Student Support & Advocacy. Email: or call 212-678-3619.

You can also submit a referral for service upon receiving student consent. Please note: students should not be mandated to contact Student Wellness. However, if you perceive it will be beneficial to the student, please refer and provide your rationale.

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