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:

  • 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
  • Statements to other people about hurting themselves or other people.

Communicating Effectively

Students experiencing distress may be hesitant to reach out for help or communicating their needs. By communicating effectively, you can express understanding, support, and suggest additional resources.

  • Private Space: make sure to talk with the student in a private space where they feel comfortable and have your full attention
  • Be Direct: express in a caring and nonjudgmental way that you are concerned with the student citing behaviors you observed. For example: “I noticed that you have missed classes a lot” or “It seems you are going through a lot right now. I am concerned about you.”
  • Listen: allow the student to express themselves and pay attention to what they are telling you. Don’t feel that you have to be an expert on the problem or offer a solution.  The important thing is to listen.
  • Avoid judgements: avoid judging, criticizing, or evaluating the problem. Students come from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and value systems. It is important to respect the student’s perspective so they can feel supported and be receptive to help.

Mental Health Emergencies

Should you encounter a student with one of the following:

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

You should take the following steps:

  • Do not leave the student alone
      1. Public Safety: 212-678-3333 OR
      2. Mental Health Crisis Line: 212-854-2878 OR
      3. St Luke's Emergency Room: 212-523-3347 OR
      4. 911
  • Importantly: be sure YOU are safe

Making a Referral to Student Health & 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 Health & Wellness. Email: or call 212-678-3955.

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

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