How to Approach a Student in Distress


  • Choose a private place to talk with the student.
  • Ask the student if something is wrong, and if the student would like to talk about it.
  • If you have noticed changes in the student, it can be helpful to relate this to the student. Say something like, “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been attending class regularly lately. I’m wondering if anything is going on that I might be able to help with.”
  • Communicate care and concern for your students, rather than chastising them for poor performance.
  • Mention the availability of Student Counseling Services. Some faculty keep a few copies of our brochure at hand.


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.