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Students in Crisis

Identifying and Responding

To Students in Distress


The Ouachita Counseling Center Can Help You...

  • Recognize signs of student distress.
  • Respond in ordinary ways that help struggling students.
  • Talk helpfully with a student in distress.
  • Connect students to Counseling Center resources.
  • Know how to get help for a student in crisis.



  • Declining quality of work, missing assignments, worsening test grades
  • Written work content increasingly reflecting themes of hopelessness, anger, loneliness, discontentment, etc.
  • Repeated due date extension requests or late work submissions
  • Excessive absences
  • Poor attentiveness in class
  • Reports of newly developed difficulty(s) with motivation, concentration, memory or comprehension


  • Frequent or increasing tearfulness
  • Visible decline in mood or affect
  • Increased irritability, angry outbursts, frequent complaints
  • Apparent panic episodes or debilitating anxiety (possibly evident as student repeatedly and abruptly leaves class and doesn’t return, or returns appearing distressed or exhausted); statements indicating student is feeling frequently overwhelmed and consumed with worrisome thoughts
  • Sudden or extreme changes in mood, whether towards euphoria or despair
  • Chronic excessive or irrational guilt
  • A convincing sense of personal worthlessness


  • Unusual/inappropriate response to events; strange, unusual or bizarre behavior; confusing speech
  • Frequently reported illness with vague or inconsistent explanations/diagnoses
  • Loss of connection with reality (grandiose, paranoid or odd delusions/hallucinations)
  • Diminishing personal hygiene
  • Numerous marks or cuts on the body, suggesting self-harm behavior
  • Violence, stalking, harassment
  • Reported or suspected substance abuse
  • Sleep difficulty
  • Social withdrawal, self-isolation


  • Listen carefully as the student talks about their difficulties; offer non-confrontational support and sensitivity. Reflect/paraphrase back to the student what you understand them to be saying and feeling. Never minimize the student’s distress. Respect the student’s privacy without promising absolute confidentiality.
  • Detail your expectations in your course syllabus, and vocally highlight key items in class. Keep the syllabus updated when changes are needed. When you inform students of due dates, assignment instructions, etc., minimize uncertainty by communicating frequently, clearly, with advance notice and in writing.
  • As the semester proceeds, give students prompt and ongoing access to their assignment, quiz and exam grades using communications tools such as Moodle.
  • Learn your students’ names. Get to know them as best you can before, during, after and outside of class sessions.
  • Allow students to get to know you as a person. This, and getting to know them, will often enhance or improve their motivation and attentiveness in class.
  • If willing, share with the student a few of the positive things you have found helpful when facing difficult times in your life.
  • Encourage students to take advantage of the many support resources available on campus, such as the Academic Success Center, the Speer Writing Center, the Counseling Center, Health Services, Campus Ministries and student organizations. Students who are connected and have a strong sense of community are better equipped to cope in times of crisis.


If you’re concerned about a student’s well-being, gently and compassionately comment on changes or behaviors you’ve observed. Offer assistance; you might say:

"Can you tell me what’s going on? Is there anything I can do to help you?"
"I recently noticed that (make reference here to the student’s statement or behavior). I’m concerned for you. Would you be willing to talk about this?"
"Have you considered reaching out to someone?"



"You’re doing badly in my class. What’s up with that? You need to straighten up if you expect to pass this course. Put on your big boy/girl pants and suck it up!"


"It seems you’re struggling with something and aren’t at your best lately. How can I help you?"


After some careful application of discernment, it may be appropriate to [discreetly] share some of the difficult times or challenges you have faced in life, and what you found that encouraged you or helped you through your discouragement, struggle or pain. If the student is a believer, sharing a verse of scripture that has been especially helpful to you may be quite appropriate. While a serious life adversity or trauma may on occasion be fitting to share, please be careful here not to overshadow or “one-up” the student by sharing an experience or problem that might suggest that their present difficulty is ”nothing by comparison” to yours.

You might also consider saying something like:

"I would encourage you to avoid yielding to your discouragement or negative feelings. Keep reaching out for help and don’t give up! I’m confident you’ll get through this."

If you are concerned the student might be contemplating suicide, it’s always acceptable to ask directly:

"Are you feeling so badly that you are thinking of suicide, self-harm or harm to others?"

(This question won't raise the risk of this behavior.)

Asking a student directly if they are considering ending their own life will not cause or encourage them to do so. Ask - if you think you have reason to be concerned about this risk.


  1. “Have you been thinking about ending your life?”
  2. If yes, “Have you been considering how you would do so?” If so, explore their access to the items required for this method (a weapon, meds/pills, knife or razorblade, etc.) and ask to take possession of or remove access to this item.
  3. “Have you planned when you would end your life? You may want to ask if they’ve attempted suicide anytime recently, as this suggests increased risk.
  4. “Are there relationships, goals, fears, hopes that have kept you from acting on these thoughts (reasons for living)? If so, talking about and reinforcing these may be helpful.

  • If the student answers YES to question #1, report it -
    • during weekday office hours to the Student Development Office (ext. 4000, or 870-245-5220). They will contact one of our Counseling Staff and the student’s R.D. We will work to make contact with the student immediately.
    • after hours, immediately report this to the student’s R.D., call Campus Safety (ext. 4000, or 870-245-4000).
  • If a student also answers YES to questions #2 or #3, immediately call Campus Safety at 870-245-4000, and do not leave them unattended.
  • If a suicide attempt has just occurred, is in progress, or seems imminent, call 911 immediately.
  • In every case, please also offer to them the National Suicide lifeline – Dial 988.


It Doesn't Matter How You Ask...


What Should I Do

If a Student is in a Mental Health Crisis?


Call 9-1-1 Immediately If...

  • A suicide attempt is in progress.
  • There is reason to believe a suicide attempt is imminent.
  • The student is unconscious or unresponsive.
  • The student appears to be under the influence of a substance.

Call Campus Safety and Emergency Management

EXT. 4000 OR 870-260-5691/6740 IF...

  • A student has expressed thoughts of suicide.
  • A student has engaged in non-suicidal self-harm behavior.
  • A student is in a mental health crisis that leaves them unable to function normally (i.e., unable to get out of bed, eat or leave their room).

You may walk with the student to the Student Development Office if appropriate.

Call Student Development


to schedule an immediate crisis counseling appointment.

After making the above notifications, inform at least one of the following persons:

  • The student’s Residence Hall Director
  • Dan Jarboe, Counseling Services • Ext. 5591
  • Tim Harrell, Dean of Students • Ext. 5220

Trust Your Instincts...

If you see something of concern, say something to the student, and do something - contact us & guide them to get help!

Next Steps



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