How to help a student in distress

Faculty and staff are frequently first to become aware of students in distress. They may need to meet with a student to assess their concern and help the student get appropriate support.

Faculty and staff may turn to Counseling Services for consultation about students of concern. Below is information about how to assist students in distress.

Are you concerned about the mental well-being of a student?

If a student poses an immediate threat to self or others, call 911.

The Student Care Network is a resource for faculty, teaching assistants and others who are concerned about a student's well-being, behavior or health. If you are worried about a student's academic performance, or behavior in or out of class, you may send an Student Care Network report via the Student Care Referral Form.

To discuss your concern about a WSU Vancouver student with a psychological counselor, contact WSU Counseling Services at 360-546-9238 or

How to approach a student in distress

  1. Speak directly and honestly to the student when you sense academic and/or personal distress.
  2. Openly acknowledge to the student that you are aware of apparent distress and you are sincerely concerned about the student’s welfare.
  3. Ask to see the student in private. This may help minimize embarrassment and defensiveness.
  4. In the meeting, briefly acknowledge your observations and perceptions of the situation and express your concerns directly and honestly.
  5. Listen carefully to learn what the student is troubled about and try to see the issues from the student’s point of view without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing.
  6. Attempt to identify the student's problem or concern as well as your own concerns or uneasiness. You can help by exploring alternatives to deal with the problem.
  7. Don’t ignore strange and inappropriate behavior. Comment directly on what you have observed.
  8. Your flexibility with strict procedures may allow an alienated student to respond more effectively to your concerns.
  9. Involve yourself only as far as you want to go. At times, in an attempt to reach or help a troubled student, you may become more involved than time or skill permits. Seek staff consultation as needed.

Consider referring a student to counseling if their problems have compromised their ability to function academically, personally or socially. Signs and symptoms of student distress include procrastination and poorly prepared work, infrequent class attendance, social withdrawal, frequent tearfulness, marked changes in personal hygiene, impaired speech or disjointed thoughts, threats to harm oneself or others, disturbing material in academic assignments and a high level of irritability.

How to refer a student to Counseling Services

  • Talk to the student in private.
  • Directly state your concern and what you have observed.
  • Let the student know that you believe a counselor could help in this situation.
  • Inform the student the services are confidential and free of charge.
  • Assure the student that scheduling an initial appointment does not lock them into a commitment to ongoing counseling.
  • Point out that a situation does not have to reach crisis proportions to benefit from professional help.
  • Acknowledge, validate and discuss the student’s real fears and concerns about seeking help.
  • Emphasize that, although some people feel that seeking counseling is an admission of weakness or failure, in fact it takes considerable courage and integrity.
  • Don't force the issue if the student resists—simply restate your concerns and recommendations.
  • Offer to accompany the student to Counseling Services or to help set up an appointment via phone.

If the student refuses help

Although it is important to care about students’ emotional well-being, we cannot make decisions for them, and an independent decision by the student to seek help is best. If the student resists referral and you remain uncomfortable, feel free to contact Counseling Services to discuss your concern.

If an emergency exists when Counseling Services is closed, call 911 or the Clark County Crisis Line at 800-626-8137. (TTY: 866-835-2755)