UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls

Responding to a Student in Distress
Faculty Resources

Intervention: Suggested Guidelines When Talking With Distressed Students 

Openly acknowledging to students that you are aware of their distress, sincerely concerned about their welfare and willing to help them explore alternative responses, can have a profound and positive effect. We encourage you, whenever possible, to speak directly and honestly with a student when you sense that he/she is in emotional distress.


When you are directly involved with a student experiencing distress we recommend the following:

  • Request to see the student in private. This may help minimize embarrassment and defensiveness.
  • Briefly acknowledge your observations and perceptions of their situation.
  • Express your concerns directly and honestly.
  • Listen carefully and try to see the issues from the student's point of view without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing.
  • Attempt to identify the problem. You can help by exploring with the student alternative responses to their present distress.
  • Inappropriate and strange behavior should not be ignored. Comment on what you have observed, but not in a judgmental way.
  • Involve yourself only as far as you feel comfortable and competent. The Counseling Services staff and other professionals on the campus are available to assist you.


Consultation: Exploring Your Options

If you are unsure of how to work with a specific distressed student, we encourage you to consult with one of the counselors on our staff. Once you contact us, a counselor will be made available to you for consultation immediately or very soon thereafter. Office hours are 8 AM to 4:30 PM, Monday through Friday. Call us at 715-425-3884, inform the receptionist who you are, and ask to speak with a personal counselor. A brief consultation may help you sort out the relevant issues and explore alternative approaches.


Referral: Getting Help for the Student

When you discuss a referral for counseling with a student, it would be helpful for the student to hear your concerns in a clear and concise manner and why you think counseling would be helpful.


When should I refer a student to Counseling Services?

Self E-valuatorThe decision to refer a student to Counseling Services is first based upon your own observations; i.e., does the student show signs and symptoms of emotional distress?

While each student experiences emotional distress in a different way, some common indicators you might observe include:

  • Expressed suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • High levels of irritability including undue aggressive or abrasive behavior expressed towards you or others
  • Lack of energy
  • Marked change in personal hygiene
  • Bizarre or strange behavior
  • Sadness, tearfulness
  • Frequent binge eating episodes or extreme loss of appetite
  • Dependency, e.g., the student who hangs around your office or makes excessive appointments to see you
  • Infrequent class attendance and inadequate effort put into the assignments
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Lack of enthusiasm about various aspects of student life
  • Unusual bruises or lacerations on face and/or body


Contact University Police at 715-425-3133 if:

  • You are seriously concerned about a student’s safety
  • A student informs you that he/she has taken an overdose or committed a suicidal gesture
  • You are concerned about a student’s safety and he/she refuses to go to Counseling Services, or if the Counseling Services office is closed.
Parent Resources

Signs of Distress to look for:

Self E-valuator

Academic/Work signs:

  • Deterioration in quality of work
  • Missing assignments or appointments
  • Not attending classes

Physical or Emotional Signs:

  • Tearfulness, sadness, anxiety
  • Trouble eating or sleeping
  • Withdrawing from friends and/or social activities
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, work, school
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Increased use of alcohol/drugs
  • Anger, irritability
  • Physical ailments: headaches, nausea, abdominal pain
  • Emails or phone conversations that have themes of hopelessness, social isolation, rage or despair.

Please consult with the Counseling Services at 715-425-3884


Get Help Immediately If You Notice:

  • Acting out of control, confused
  • Talking openly about wanting to die
  • Taking unnecessary or life threatening risks


Express Your Concerns

It can be difficult to see your loved one in distress, but talking to your student shows that you care even if your student has difficulty accepting your concern.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Be honest and express your concerns.  Talk about the changes you have seen in them.  Listen and offer emotional support, understanding and patience
  • Convey the message that the student’s distress is real, common and treatable
  • Offer to help them get assistance.
  • Maintain regular contact
  • Help them contact UWRF Counseling Services or a helping professional in your community.
  • Consult with Counseling Services at 715-425-3884


In An Emergency

If your student needs help or is feeling unsafe, please contact one of the following:

  • Call 911 or University Police 715-425-3133
  • UW River Falls Counseling Services 715-425-3884
    Open 8am-4:30 pm Mon-Fri


Other Helpful Phone Numbers

Health Concerns

UW-River Falls Student Health Services 715-425-3293

Living/Residential Concerns

UW-River Falls Residence Life 715-425-4555 email: reslife@uwrf.edumail