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New Mexico State University
New Mexico State University

Helping a Student in Distress

As member of the NMSU community, you are often in a position to come in contact with a student in distress. Your care and concern could make all the difference. This student may show signs such as seeming sad, depressed, angry, unusually distracted, or have a sudden decline in academic performance. Keep in mind you may come across a distressed student in your own class, during office hours, or around campus. Please be aware that this is not an exhaustive guide and only a trained professional should take responsibility when a person’s physical safety is in question.

Steps You Can Take To Be Helpful

If a student is actively threatening violence or suicide/self-destructive behavior, call 911 immediately to connect with NMSU police.

Look for signs that a student may be in distress

If a student appears to be in distress and is not in any immediate danger, you may wish to talk with them in order to get them to the proper resources.

Be aware of some students’ need for privacy (e.g., pull them aside for a private conversation rather than trying to address the issue in class or a public place).

A student may be upset or crying

  • Identify yourself as a faculty/staff member or peer and your intent to be helpful
  • Attempt to talk with the student and learn about what is going on
  • Express your genuine concern for the student’s well-being
  • If you discover that there is an emergency (such as the student being suicidal or homicidal) call 911 immediately
  • If there is no emergency and the student could benefit from professional help, call the Counseling Center to speak with staff member about referral options

Be aware that the student may have other resources that could be helpful to engage first:

  • Family
  • Friends
  • Spiritual leaders
  • Teachers/professors
  • Coaches
  • Other community groups/leaders

Some students may accept a referral for professional help more easily than others. Be willing to be a support for student in terms of getting help for them, but also be clear about your limitations to help the student with their problem directly.

You may find that the student’s needs are beyond the scope of what you can provide, or that both you and the student are uncomfortable discussing the issue, in which case you may want to refer the student to the proper resources.