Five Ways You Can Help a Student In Distress

Ypsilanti, Daniel

As UF faculty or staff you may be the first one to notice signs of distress of a student. At UF, it is our shared responsibility to look out for one another and we are here to support you help distressed students.

In addition to the tips below the UF Counseling and Wellness Center offers a free online resource, Kognito, to help you notice when students show signs of stress, learn how to talk about these signs, practice sharing your concerns, and learn how to motivate your them to seek help. Learn more about Kognito

1.  Be Aware

Be aware of signs of distress such as:

  • Worsening grades
  • Lack of participation
  • Worsening appearance
  • Change in speech

2.  Focus on Observable Behavior

When expressing your concern with a student focus on specific, observable behavior. Keep your role distinct by focusing on behaviors related to academic performance and things you notice in class and office hours.

  • Try phrases like:
    • “I’ve noticed some behaviors I wanted to talk about…”
    • “It appears to me…”
  • Make sure to keep a neutral, non-judgmental tone.
  • Ask questions and affirm the student’s strengths.

3.  Don’t Try to Diagnose

Don’t try to diagnose your student. You don’t have to understand why your student may be acting this way, just that it’s negatively effecting the quality of their life.

  • Avoid phrases like: “It may be psychological”, “Sounds like panic attacks”, or “You’re obviously depressed”.

4.  Make a Referral

  • Emphasize the positives of counseling services, focusing on how they can improve skills (rather than overcome deficiencies)
    • Try phrases like:
      • “Counselors see a lot of students with concerns like yours”
      • “I don’t know if you need counseling services, that’s for you to explore.”
      • “Using counseling services is a normal, healthy way to handle stress and build resilience”
    • Address any mention of suicide.
      • The Counseling and Wellness Center has specific trainings for faculty and staff to help you understand how to work with students who may be in extreme distress. Visit ufl.edu/suicide-education for more information.
      • The CWC also has a suicide prevention resources page with phone numbers, text/chat lines, advice for talking to someone who is suicidal, and more.

5.  Follow Up

  • Following up with your student is important because it helps you see how they feel in comparison to when you addressed their signs of distress and shows them that you care about their well-being.