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Tips for Talking to a Distressed Student
- Remain calm.
- Provide private, quiet space. Don’t be rushed.
- Ask the student to sit down with you.
- Speak directly and honestly.
- Explain your concern using specific behavioral examples such as:
“I have noticed that you have been crying and I am concerned about you.”
- Listen and seek to understand…ask questions (don’t assume) such as:
“What do you need?” or “How can I help?”
- Normalize, for example:
“You are not alone.” or "What you are feelings makes sense."
- Frame help seeking as a sign of strength, for example:
“It took courage for you to come to me.”
- Don’t criticize, blame, judge or give advice.
- Ask about the student’s support system. Encourage them to utilize healthy friends and family members for help.
Listening is a gift of spiritual significance that you can learn to give to others.
When you listen, you give one a sense of importance, hope and love that he or she
may not receive any other way. Through listening, we nurture and validate the feelings
one has, epecially when he or she experiences difficulties in life. -- H. Norman Wright
Consultation & Referral Resources
1. For students with mild-moderate, short term personal issues (homesickness, roommate issues, stress) refer them to Let's Talk, our drop-in service at multiple sites across campus.
3. For students with more serious personal issues (anxiety, depression, grief) refer them to The Counseling Center for a walk-in Needs Assessment. It is sometime helpful to walk a student over to our clinic.
4. On evenings and weekends, students may call BUCSPress2, our 24/7 Mental Health Helpline, when they need to talk to someone right away. (423) 439-4841
5. When you suspect a student is in distress but they cannot be reached or are unwilling to get help, you may choose to file a CARE Report.
6. If a student is an immediate danger to self or others, call Public Safety (on campus) or 911 (off campus).
7. If you are unsure what to do, consult with other faculty or staff in youer department. You may also consult with us by phone or in person.
After the Crisis
Working with an emotionally distressed student can be personally stressful. Secondary trauma refers to the process that helpers undergo as they come face-to-face with the reality of pain experienced by those around them.
The response to traumatic stress varies. Helpers may feel a range of emotions including: shock, denial, worry, anger, self-doubt, and sadness. It is normal for people to question themselves after responding to a student in distress. After responding to a crisis, be sure to engage in good self-care. Set healthy boundaries and seek professional consultation if this experience begins to interfere with your daily life.
You might also enjoy some of our recommended self-help apps.
Schedule a presentation for your department: Helping the Distressed Student