Post-secondary studies can be a challenging period of life for students. Generally there are signs that a student is struggling long before a situation escalates to a crisis. Faculty and staff are well-positioned to recognize behaviour that may indicate that a student is in distress and may require help. Being able to recognize the signs of distress and being willing to address your concerns directly are critical first steps in assessing the student.


Mild to Moderate Distress

Signs that a student might be in mild to moderate distress include expressions of hopelessness, difficulty moderating emotions, excessive absences from class, or significant changes in behaviour or hygiene, as examples.

Ways to Support the Student Include:

  • Speak to the student in a safe and reasonably private place.
  • Set a positive, supportive tone.
  • Express concern for the student and identify what you’ve observed (specific concerning behaviours).
  • Do not guarantee confidentiality. If the student is at risk of suicide or anyone is at risk you will need to involve Public Safety/the police.
  • Listen to the student without minimizing their concern or making empty promises like “everything will be fine”.
  • Understand your limits — you are not there to solve personal problems.
  • Provide referral to Counselling Services or other resources as necessary. Let students know counselling is free and confidential. Try to normalize the use of counselling for students.
  • If after speaking with the student you believe there is no imminent risk, but you remain concerned about the potential for harm to self or others, or the likelihood of the situation escalating, consult the Student Intervention Coordinator.
  • Brief your immediate supervisor.

Severe Distress

Signs that a student is in severe distress are generally more obvious and necessitate urgent responses.

Examples Include:

  • Highly disruptive or erratic behaviour including hostility, aggression, or violence.
  • Inability to communicate clearly including disjointed, or rambling thoughts.
  • Loss of contact with reality. The student might see or hear things that are not there or report beliefs that are greatly at odds with reality.
  • Stalking behaviours.
  • Inappropriate communications including threatening e-mails or harassment
  • Overtly suicidal thoughts.
  • Threats to harm others.

How to Respond to a Student Experiencing Severe Distress:

  • If you believe that there is imminent danger of harm to a student or someone else, immediately call Public Safety for assistance at ext. 4000 or call 911.
  • If it is safe to do so, ensure that someone remains with the student while contacts are being made.
  • If there is no imminent danger, refer students to Counselling Services during business hours or the Good2Talk 24/7 Helpline after hours.
  • Consult the Student Intervention Coordinator where a breach of the Code of Student Conduct may have taken place, or if you require consultation on a concerning student behaviour you’ve observed. The Student Support and Intervention Team may be activated to respond to complex student related concerns.
  • Be sure to brief your immediate supervisor.

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