How to Help a Student

Faculty and Staff

While most students cope successfully with demands of college life, for some, the pressures can become overwhelming and unmanageable. There is powerful rationale for faculty/staff to intervene when they encounter distressed students: the inability to cope effectively with emotional stress poses a serious threat to students’ learning ability. As a faculty/staff member, your expression of interest and concern may be a critical factor in helping a struggling student reestablish the emotional equilibrium necessary for a fulfilling university experience.


There will likely come a time when you notice a friend struggling to cope and do not know how to help. Providing another student with the available campus resources may be the best way to assist him or her.These guidelines may help you assess what can sometimes be a difficult situation and give you some specific ideas about what you can do when confronted with students who are distressed. Check out this brief video, created by Butler students, that illustrates how friends might intervene and refer a friend in need. How to help a friend in need  (pdf)

The following behaviors may indicate that something is wrong and a referral may be needed:

  • Serious grade problems or a change from consistently good grades to unaccountably poor performance
  • Excessive absences, especially if the student has previously demonstrated good, consistent class attendance
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional response which is obviously inappropriate to the situation
  • A depressed, lethargic mood
  • Being excessively active and talkative (very rapid speech), not needing sleep
  • Swollen, red eyes
  • Marked change in personal dress and hygiene
  • Falling asleep inappropriately

The following behaviors are often present in students in extreme crisis needing immediate care:

  • Highly disruptive behavior (hostile, aggressive, violent)
  • Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech; unconnected or disjointed thoughts)
  • Loss of contact with reality (seeing/hearing things which “aren’t there,” beliefs or actions greatly at odds with reality or probability)
  • Overtly suicidal thoughts (referring to suicide as a current option)
  • Homicidal threats

If you choose to approach a student you’re concerned about, here are some suggestions that might make the situation more comfortable for you and helpful for the student:

  • Talk to the student in private when both of you have time and are not rushed or preoccupied. If you are pressed for time, set up another time to talk with the student.
  • Describe the behavior that concerns you.
  • Listen to the student. Communicate understanding by restating what you heard them say. Try to include both content and feelings.
  • Avoid judging, evaluating, and criticizing.
  • Work with the student to specify options they can consider (i.e., talk with family, friends, clergy, counselor, coach, etc.)
  • Regard the information the student gives you as confidential unless it threatens harm to themselves or others.

There are circumstances that may require the use of other resources. Examples include:

  • The problem is one you do not feel qualified to handle.
  • You believe that personality differences will interfere with your ability to help.
  • You know the student personally (as a friend, neighbor, friend of a friend) and think you could not be objective enough to help.
  • The student acknowledges the problem but is reluctant to discuss it with you.
  • You are feeling overwhelmed, pressed for time, or otherwise at a high level of stress yourself.

Provide whatever support you can based on these guidelines, and make a referral when it seems that the problem is beyond this level of intervention.  Explain your limits to the student if making a referral so that they understand your reason for suggesting our service.  Referring to us can also help you prevent dual relationships that can be confusing for both you and the student.

Whenever possible, students should make their own appointment. They can schedule online, stop by or phone CCS. In urgent situations, a therapist will assist the student immediately if available.

During the first appointment, an intake counselor will begin an assessment of the student’s needs and the ways in which the CCS might be able to help. No information obtained in counseling shall be discussed in any way by the counselor without the client’s written permission, unless disclosure is required by law. Most services are free.

After the initial meeting, the intake therapist will review the student’s information with a professional team to determine the best service for their needs. If our model of services is not appropriate for their presenting concern, we will assist in finding the services that will best meet their needs.

When you refer a student, it is helpful to promote CCS in its entirety, rather than suggesting the student see a particular therapist. However, encouraging the student by sharing your knowledge and confidence in the therapists at CCS is certainly appropriate. Encouraging the student to accept an appointment at the earliest available time slot will allow the student to be seen sooner and does not rule out the option of seeing a particular therapist at a later time.

If you have chosen to refer a student, you may still have some questions about how best to handle the situation. Staff members at CCS would be pleased to help you.

For consultation from the CCS, call 317-940-9777. Email is not a confidential mode of communication. Please do not send any information that has sensitive information, names, dates or scenarios if you would not want this known publicly. If you would like to consult regarding a sensitive issue, please call CCS.

Remember, that except in dangerous emergencies, the decision whether to accept or reject the referral is ultimately the student’s. If you want to know whether a student has accepted your referral, please ask them. It is unlawful for the CCS to provide any information about counseling to anyone without the student’s written consent.

Some students may accept a referral for professional help better than others. It is usually best to be frank with students about the limits of your time, energy, training, or objectivity as you attempt to assist them. Most students find it reassuring that you respect their willingness to talk and that you want to support them in getting the assistance they need. Confused students might be comforted to know that they don’t necessarily have to know what is wrong before they can ask for help. Assure them that seeking help doesn’t necessarily mean that they have serious problems. Feeling down or low on energy and motivation, experiencing difficulties in relationships with friends, parents, and partners, feeling anxious or depressed, and having concerns about future plans are all very good reasons for seeking professional assistance.