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Helping a Distressed Student


If it is an emergency, and you or a friend needs help right now – Call:

  • 713-313-7000 – If you are on campus
  • 911 If you are off campus

Some Signs and Symptoms of a Student in Distress

Signs of a distressed student generally include extreme emotions, strange behaviors, threatening behavior, and significant changes in usual functioning.

Academic Difficulties

Quality of academic work is noticeably inconsistent with previous work Repeated requests for special consideration, such as incompletes Infrequent class attendance with little or no work completed Pattern of low grades.

Physical Signs

Marked changes in personal hygiene or other forms of self-care Disheveled or fatigued appearance Listlessness, lack of energy Dramatic changes in weight.

Social Withdrawal

Withdrawal from peers, friends and family Avoidance of social interaction in general.

Strange Behaviors and Impaired Thinking

Bizarre or strange behaviors that are obviously inappropriate to the situation Incoherent speech Delusional and/or irrational thinking Agitation, noticeable restlessness Unusual difficulty when making decisions Other behaviors not typical of the student.

Uncontrolled Emotions

Intense anxiety Irritability and anger Depressed mood Frequent tearfulness and/or crying spells.

Threatening Statements and Behaviors

Threats to harm self or others Threatening behaviors (i.e., gestures, notes, drawings, etc.) Disruptive behaviors (i.e., outbursts, defiance, non-compliance, etc.).

Substance Abuse

Public intoxication Body/clothing odor Appearing to be under the influence of a controlled substance (i.e., imbalance, slurred speech, intense emotions, etc.).

Guidelines for Intervention

There is not a “formula” to follow when responding to a distressed student. However, it is most important to approach the student in a calm, gentle manner conveying genuine concern and sincerity. Keep in mind that active listening and supporting the student are often effective interventions. Another key aspect of intervening is to determining the urgency of the situation.

The more life-threatening the situation appears, the more rapidly one needs to intervene in bringing in appropriate resources. If the student seems disoriented or incoherent or if the situation appears imminently life-threatening, we recommend that you call the TSU Campus Police at (713) 313-7000. Following this, we recommend that you call us (University Counseling Center) at (713) 313-7804 to assist with stabilizing the student. The following guidelines apply when the situation does not appear to be imminently life-threatening:

  • Request to speak with the student privately.
  • Describe the behaviors or signs that concern you.
  • Listen carefully, avoiding interruptions and asking too many questions.
  • Show concern and interest.
  • Repeat back the essence of what the student has told you.
  • Avoid criticizing or sounding judgmental.
  • Refrain from telling the student what to do.
  • Assist in identifying options available to the student, including relevant resources available to the student.
  • Consider the University Counseling Center (UCC) as a resource and discuss a referral with the student.
  • If the student resists help and you are worried, contact UCC to discuss your concerns.

Maintaining appropriate boundaries when providing assistance to distressed students can be challenging. Intervening can be a gratifying experience when kept within realistic limits. It is the student’s choice whether to receive services or not. Remember, that providing these types of services to our students is our primary responsibility and we invite you to call on us at any time.

You can make a referral by filling out this form:

Referral Form