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How to Help a Student

If you have clicked on this page, you are probably concerned about someone. Feel free to learn about how to help a student in the page below, or just give us a call anytime at (631) 632-6720 to talk through the situation and get individualized feedback. It is also important to remind you:

If a student may be in immediate danger, contact University Police by dialing 911 from a campus landline, or (631) 632-3333 from a cell phone or off-campus phone.

Evidence suggests that the earlier a distressed student receives professional help, the better their recovery. However, some students do not reach out for help, even when it is clear they need support. Friends, family, faculty and staff often recognize students in distress and play an important role in getting students the help they need.

When to speak to a student

Trust your instincts—even if you are not certain that a student is struggling, talking with them can be an important step in clarifying your concerns.  It is better to be wrong and reach out to a student who does not need help than to ignore a student who is struggling.  Check out Change Direction to learn the signs that someone may need support.

Having the conversation

When possible, talk with the student in a private and calm space.  Choose a time when you are free of pressing responsibilities or distractions. Give the student time to talk about their situation.  Be patient and supportive.  Listen without judgment, assumptions, or interruptions.  Take what they are saying seriously. Listening is a critical component of helping.

During this conversation, or in follow-up conversations, you may realize that a student needs more help than you are able or willing to provide. You may also notice:

You have already talked to the student and their problem is not getting better.
You find yourself feeling responsible for the student.
You feel pressure to solve their problems.
You feel you are over-extending yourself in helping the student.
You feel stressed-out by the student’s issues.
You see a pattern repeating itself in your interaction with a student.
You feel that the problems a student bring to you are more than you can handle.
You feel anxious when the student approaches you.

It is time to refer this student to a professional! CAPS is a great place to start. Share your recommendation with the student in a straightforward manner and emphasize your concern for the student. 

If a student is hesitant to seek help, it can be useful to discuss any reservations or resistance a student might have to your referral. Are they concerned about stigma? Do they hold stereotypes about counseling? Have they had a previously negative counseling experience? Do they know anyone who has been helped by counseling? A student might not know that CAPS services are confidential and free, and that many students find even a few sessions very helpful. Open discussion may provide some relief (especially if a student fears being judged by you) and may address some of the student’s reluctance. It may also take some time for a student to agree to seek help. That's okay. Unless you are concerned for their safety, you can allow a student to decide when they are ready.

Concerns about Safety

Don't keep secrets when you are concerned about safety.

If you are concerned about the safety of a student and/or others, referring a student to CAPS may not be enough. The following table gives you suggestions for how to respond when you are concerned about a student. You can also call CAPS to consult on a specific situation.


Signs of Distress

Feeling unusually angry, sad, anxious or overwhelmed

Feeling hopeless about the future

Not showing up to class or work; not meeting obligations

Seems withdrawn or doesn’t participate in activities they used to enjoy

Behaving differently from the way they used to act


How to Respond to Distress

Listen to, and validate the student’s pain


Encourage student to come to CAPS and walk them over, if student is willing 


Signs of Crisis

Thoughts of suicide, or thoughts of hurting someone else

Suicide attempt in the last 30 days

Self-injury (cutting, burning, etc.), without expecting to die

Not taking medications as prescribed

Bizarre thoughts or behavior

Agitated and unable to calm down


How to Respond to a Crisis

Walk student to CAPS (M-F, 9am-5pm) or call CAPS After Hours (631-632-6720) on nights and weekends and walk student to CAPS the next day


Contact the Behavioral Assessment Committee (631-632-6705)


Signs of an Emergency

These are life-threatening situations!

Plans to seriously injure themselves or someone else (stated or implied)

Behavior that suggests they cannot keep themselves safe

Attempted suicide in the last 24 hours, even if they appear physically safe

Very disorganized speech or seems unable to determine reality


How to Respond to an Emergency

Call UPD (631-632-3333) or 911


Contact the Behavioral Assessment Committee (631-632-6705)

Questions? Call Us!
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