Responding to Distressed Students
How To: Transition to College
Making friends, missing family and adjusting to new roommates are all normal parts
of student life.
How to Help a Distressed Student
When you are concerned about a distressed student, start with The Red Folder. It shows you the best ways to respond and help.
Use The Red Folder to see:
- The UCR response protocol for helping a distressed student
- How to recognize signs of distress
- Contact information for the Critical Student Incident Team
- A quick guide of essential UCR and community mental health resources
The Red Folder was created in collaboration with UCOP and the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), and is a result of Prop 63 (Mental Health Services Act).
You can also:
- Contact us at 951-827-5531 with any questions.
- Review more in-depth resources on specific topics below.
Did You Know?
Counseling and Psychological Services does not provide academic advising. For academic
counseling, call 951-827-3411.
A Counselor On Duty is available at Counseling and Psychological Services weekdays,
8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
All students who pay UCR registration fees are eligible for free Counseling and Psychological
Counseling and Psychological Services serves as a national test center for the LSAT
Group therapy allows you to connect to others with similar concerns and to listen
to shared issues.
Couples Counseling is available for students and their partners or spouses.
Counseling and Psychological Services has designed an online guide to help faculty
and staff respond to distressed students.
Counseling and Psychological Services staff includes licensed psychologists, marriage
and family counselors, and pre-doctoral interns.
Counselors are available by phone 24 hours daily by dialing 951-827-5531 or 951-UCR-
You can take an online assessment right now to see how you're doing emotionally.
Everything you discuss with a UCR counselor is confidential unless it falls under
the legal exceptions.
Counselors are available for workshops and presentations, including weekly meditation
The Anxious Student
Anxiety is a normal response to a perceived danger or threat to one’s well-being or self-esteem. Anxiety is frequently a result of the intense academic competition among students, fear of inadequacy regarding some academic challenge, or personal relationships.
Regardless of the cause, one or more of the following symptoms may be experienced:
- Rapid heart beat
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Trembling or shaking
- Cold, clammy hands
The student may also complain of:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Always being “on edge”
- Difficulty making decisions
- Sleep problems
- Being too fearful to take action
In rare cases, a student may experience a panic attack in which physical symptoms occur spontaneously and intensely in such a way that the student may fear she/he is dying.
How to Help:
- Let the student discuss his/her feelings and thoughts. Often this alone relieves some of the pressure.
- Provide reassurance.
- Remain calm and talk slowly.
- Be clear and direct.
- If possible, provide a safe and quiet environment until symptoms subside.
What to Avoid:
- Don't minimize the perceived threat to which the student is reacting.
- Don't take responsibility for his/her emotional state.
- Don't overwhelm him/her with information or ideas to "fix" their condition.
- Don't become anxious or overwhelmed.
Departmental Safety Plan
First and foremost, call the Campus Police Department at (951) 827-5222 to help with setting up a plan. Frequently, the people you work with and who are in closest physical proximity can provide the most help. For example, if a threatening student shows up at your office, you may need assistance from someone nearby. The following section will help you to define a security plan for you and your department.
The following are the kinds of behavior you should be concerned about when encountering a disruptive student within your department:
- Unwilling to leave the building
- Interrupting the business of the department
- Bizarre statements/actions
- Angry/verbally abusive/yelling
- Behaving suspiciously
There are at least three kinds of responses available to you:
- Do what you can to get the person to stop the behavior; try to handle it yourself
- If the person is there and violent or potentially violent, call Campus police (911)
Get assistance from others within your department and elsewhere in the building
- Have someone come and stand near you for support
- Have someone help you deal with the person
- Call or speed-dial a designated person for help
- Have someone find a designated person to help
Get assistance from the campus police (in cases of violent or potentially violent behaviors)
- Push the panic button* (if available in your office) or call 911
- Have another person push the panic button or call 911
- Retreat to a locked office or another safe space while waiting for the police
Departmental Safety Plan Questions
- What specific areas do we need to prepare in our department?
- Individual offices
- How can we in the department help each other when faced with difficult situations?
- What will the procedures be for getting help from others within our area?
- What do we expect of the person when she/he comes to a colleague’s assistance?
- When we need another level of assistance — more than can be provided from within our
- Who will be our designated “helpers,” and are they readily available?
- How will we reach them?
- What should someone do while waiting for help?
- What should the protocol be if someone observes an individual disturbing other people by yelling, acting bizarrely, etc.?
- How will we coordinate planning and support with nearby departments?
- What does our department need to carry out these plans?
- What kinds of training do we need, what do we think would help?
An Example of a Possible Scenario
You are a department secretary. Yesterday, a student came in demanding to see Dr. X. When you told him that Dr. X was unavailable, he began to shout at you and call Dr. X names. The student then stormed out of the office. Today, the same student walks into your office again.
- How could you have prepared for this?
- What do you do?
This scenario (or one that may be more appropriate for your specific department) discussed in your group setting can help you prepare and implement a safety plan.
The Depressed Student
Depression, and the variety of ways in which it manifests itself, is part of a natural emotional and physical response to life's ups and downs. With the busy and demanding life of a college student, it is safe to assume that most students will experience periods of depression.
Major depression, however, is a “whole-body” concern involving a person's body, mood, thoughts and behavior. People with depression cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help more than 80% of those who suffer from depression.
Because they interact with students, faculty and staff are often the first to recognize that a student is depressed. Look for a pattern of the following indicators, but understand that not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom. Also, severity of symptoms varies with individuals.
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
- Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies, sex and school
- Insomnia, early-morning awakening or oversleeping
- Appetite and/or weight loss or overeating and
- Decline in personal hygiene
- Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
- Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts
- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment, such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain
- Inconsistent class attendance
Students experiencing depression often respond well to a small amount of attention for a short period of time. Early intervention increases the chances of the student getting better sooner.
How to Help
- Let the student know you are aware that she/he is feeling down and you would like to help.
- Encourage the student to discuss how she/he is feeling.
- Offer options to further investigate/manage the symptoms of depression.
- Encourage the student to seek help, possibly suggesting Counseling and Psychological Services.
What to Avoid
- Don't minimize the student's feelings (i.e., everything will be better tomorrow).
- Don't bombard the student with “fix-it” solutions or advice.
- Don't be afraid to ask whether the student is suicidal.
- Don't ignore remarks about suicide. (Always report them to a Counseling and Psychological Services therapist.)
The Student Who May Have an Eating Disorder
Those with eating disorders share a sense of fear and a terror of food and weight gain. They often experience a sense of loss of control. They feel self critical or obsessive and have a conditional or negative sense of self. Behaviorally they use food in unhealthy ways (starving, restricting, and/or bingeing). Because of the secretive nature and shame associated with eating disorders, many cases go unreported. (From Penn State University Counseling & Psychological Services)
Some warning signs associated with an eating disorder include:
- Marked decrease/increase in weight
- Development of abnormal or secretive eating habits
- Restrictive eating or purging behaviors (vomiting, fasting, laxatives, diet pills, or diuretics)
- Frequent trips to the bathroom after eating
- Preoccupations or obsessive thoughts about weight and body shape, food, and dieting
- Distorted body image
- Compulsive or excessive exercising, such as exercising at inappropriate times or inappropriate settings
- Frequent complaints of hunger, tiredness, and cold
- Moodiness or irritability
- Social withdrawal because of weight/body image concerns
- Roommates or friends who are concerned about the student’s eating and/or purging behaviors
How to Help:
- Set aside a time to talk privately and respectfully about your concerns in a caring and straightforward way.
- Communicate your concerns with behavioral examples and in a non-judgmental way. Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt for the student's actions or attitudes. This will only make the student become defensive.
- Explain that you think these concerns may indicate a need for professional help.
- Offer to find out about services on campus (Campus Health Center, Counseling and Psychological Services) and support your student by helping them to make an appointment. Offer to accompany them if it seems like this will help them get started in treatment
What to Avoid:
- Focus on weight rather than health and effective functioning.
- Judge or label the student’s behaviors.
- Comment or give advice about the student’s weight loss or appearance (even complimentary comments about appearance).
- Attempt to force or encourage the student to eat.
- Monitor the student’s eating habits.
Referrals & Resources
Counseling and Psychological Services has a “Counselor on Duty” who is available for in-person or phone consultations during office hours, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 951-827-5531. A brief consultation may help you sort out relevant issues and explore alternative approaches to dealing with a distressed student.
How to Make a Referral
Simply suggest that the student call 951-827-5531 or visit Counseling and Psychological Services to make an appointment. Openly acknowledging to students that you are aware of their distress, sincerely concerned about their welfare, and willing to help them explore alternative responses can have a profound and positive effect.
- Request to see the student in private. This may help minimize embarrassment and defensiveness.
- Briefly acknowledge your observations and perceptions of their situation.
- Express your concerns directly and honestly.
- Be honest with the student about the limits of your time, ability, expertise and/or objectivity.
- Let the student know that you think she/he should get assistance from another source.
- Assure them that many students seek help over the course of their college career.
- Try to help the student know what to expect if she/he follows through on the referral.
Additional UCR Resources
In addition to Counseling and Psychological Services, there are several other UCR departments on campus available for assistance, consultation and intervention. Please refer below to the appropriate phone numbers and websites for more information.
Student Affairs Case Manager
HUB 381 Dean of Students Office
- Staff needs guidance or advice about how to intervene with a student of concern.
- Student is distressed or distressing to others and faculty or staff wish to defer to professional staff for assistance in intervention and follow up.
- Student needs assistance in identifying resources to meet basic student needs including housing, food, health care, essential educational expenses.
Assistant Vice Chancellor/Dean of Students
HUB 381 Dean of Students Office
- Faculty or staff needs assistance in setting boundaries and clarifying expectations.
- Faculty, staff or student needs assistance with logistical challenges facing a student.
Office of the Ombudsman
349 B Surge Building
- Any member of the campus community needs a safe, fair, independent, confidential, impartial and informal place to discuss a question, concern or complaint.
- There is a need to identify issues, generate options and/or with facilitating the resolution of a problem or conflict using conflict resolution techniques and methodologies.
- There are questions regarding applicable policies, procedures or regulations.
Policy & Law Enforcement
UCR Police Department
3500 Canyon Crest Drive
- Student presents a serious threat or imminent risk to self or others.
- File a police report about a crime that occurred on campus.
Student Conduct & Academic Integrity
- Student’s conduct (both academic or social) represents a violation of university policy and faculty or staff wishes to take steps to hold student accountable and learn from mistakes.
- Faculty or staff needs consultation as to whether student behavior constitutes a violation of university policy.
- Faculty, staff or student wants clarification regarding university policy as it pertains to students or student organizations.
Title IX – Sexual Harassment Office
349 Surge Building
- Student wishes to file a complaint of sexual harassment or sexual assault.
- There are questions or concerns about sex discrimination or sexual harassment.
- Clarification is needed regarding policies on sexual assault and procedures for reporting it.
Health & Wellness
Campus Health Center
Veitch Student Center
- Student is facing medical or behavioral health challenges that would benefit from medical care including on-campus primary care and psychiatric services and referral to off-campus specialists, programs and resources.
- Student would benefit from a peer mentor or educator.
- Student wants information on resources for health and wellness.
- Students wants information on community services or getting involved in wellness projects on campus.
Student Special Services
- Student is facing challenges associated with a physical, learning or psychological disability.
- Student is facing challenges associated with veteran’s status.
- Student wants to explore possibility of academic accommodations due to a disability.
Ethnic and Gender Programs
Student is facing challenges associated with racial, ethnic or cultural background, gender or sexual orientation.
- Offices include African Student Programs, Asian Pacific Student Programs, Chicano Student Programs, LGBT Resource Center, Native American Student Programs, and the Women’s Resource Center.
- Student is seeking support, peer mentoring, advocacy and help with community building.
- Student is facing challenges associated with sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking or domestic violence.
The Student in Poor Contact With Reality
Students in poor contact with reality have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from real life. Their thinking is typically illogical, confused, or irrational (e.g. speech patterns that jump from one topic to another with no meaningful connection). Their emotional responses may be incongruent or inappropriate, and their behavior may be bizarre and disturbing.
A student with poor contact with reality may experience hallucinations, often auditory, and may report hearing voices (e.g. someone is/will harm or control them). While this student may elicit alarm or fear from others, they are generally no more violent than anybody else. However, there are some situations in which they can become violent, especially when experiencing “command hallucinations.” These hallucinations are telling them what to do, such as “You must destroy that evil person.”
How to Help:
- Acknowledge their feelings or fears without supporting the misperceptions. (e.g., “I understand you think someone is following you, right now. I Don't see anyone and I believe you are safe.”)
- Remove extra stimulation from environment (music, cell phones, etc.).
- Talk in a calm and soft voice while stating your concern and verbalizing that they need help.
- Acknowledge your difficulty understanding them and ask for clarification.
- Respond with warmth and kindness.
- Use firm reasoning.
- Focus on what you observe in the “here and now.”
- Consult with or refer them to Counseling and Psychological Services as soon as possible if you cannot make sense of their conversation or if you are concerned about their behavior.
What to Avoid:
- Don't argue or try and convince them of the irrationality of their thinking, as this commonly produces a stronger defense of the false perception.
- Don't play along: “Oh, yes, I hear the voices.”
- Don't encourage further discussion of the delusional process.
- Don't demand or order them to do something to change their perceptions.
- Don't expect customary emotional responses.
The Student Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted
Sexual assault can be any sexual activity that a person does not consent to and includes inappropriate touching, nonconsensual sexual intercourse, and forcible or attempted rape. Sexual assault can be visual, verbal, or anything that forces a person to join in unwanted sexual contact or attention. It can happen across settings and can be perpetrated by people known or unknown to the victim/survivor.
People who have experienced sexual assault have experienced a profound violation. Their sense of safety and predictability has been shattered. Survivors’ reactions may vary profoundly depending on their life circumstances and amount of social support.
Reactions to sexual assault may include:
- Shock: Many survivors go through periods of numbness or disbelief.
- Disturbing memories: These memories may occur at very unexpected and unpredictable times, and may interfere with concentration in class, while studying, etc.
- Being overwhelmed with feelings: These may vary from survivor to survivor, but typically include sadness, anger, fear, and powerlessness.
- Physical symptoms: In addition to injuries from the sexual assault, they may experience headaches, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, and other symptoms.
- Impact on other relationships: Difficulty trusting, isolating self.
- Self-blame: It is common for the survivor to question what he/she did wrong to cause the assault or rape.
Issues to consider:
It’s important to understand that sexual assault is a violent and aggressive act. Often the victim/survivor experiences a sense of violation and powerlessness over their own body. In order to prevent further injury to the victim/survivor, consider the following:
How to Help:
- Be sure the individual is in a safe place and not still in danger of further assault.
- Be aware of your tone of voice. Victims/survivors may be sensitive to loud noises or voices.
- Be mindful of how you interact physically. Leave personal space between you and the victim/survivor and always ask before you touch them. Allow the victim/survivor to begin to regain a sense of control over their own bodies and respect their wishes with regard to physical contact.
- Ask about the person’s physical condition (i.e. physical injury, exposure to disease or pregnancy) and whether or not they may need medical treatment. (If the survivor decides to report the assault to the police, a medical examination must take place within 72 hours of the assault in order to collect evidence. This must be done through a special response team at designated hospitals.)
- Communicate what is going on. Keep the victim/survivor informed and involved in decision making (to the extent possible) as you seek support (i.e. family/friends, law enforcement, advocate services) for them following an assault.
What to Avoid:
- Don’t make assumptions. Avoid language that is presumptive (i.e. sexual orientation, religion, family or origin, ethnicity, identity, etc.). It can be very difficult for victims/survivors to trust anyone after an assault, and they need to feel safe.
- Don’t judge choices or make decisions for the victim/survivor without their knowledge.
- Don’t press for specific details, except to clarify what you are hearing.
- Counseling and Psychological Services (951) 827-5531
- CARE Advocate (951) 827-6225
- Campus Police Department (951) 827-5222
- Campus Health Center (951) 827-3031
- Women’s Resource Center (951) 827-3337
- Title IX/Sexual Harassment Office (951) 827-7070
- Student Conduct & Academic Integrity Programs (951) 827-4208
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP) (951) 781-0510
Local and National Resources
- Riverside Area Rape Crisis Center (24 Hour Crisis Line) (951) 686-7273
- Riverside Helpline (24 Hours) (951) 686-4357
- National Sexual Assault Hotline (RAINN) (800) 656-HOPE (4673)
- Riverside County Regional Medical Center (RCRMC)
- 26520 Cactus Avenue
Moreno Valley, CA 92555
(Emergency Room) (951) 486-5650
(Operator) (951) 486-4000
The Suicidal Student
It’s not uncommon for students to think about suicide. As a faculty or staff member, you may be in contact with a student who has expressed suicidal thoughts with you. It’s important to not simply overlook these comments, because the student may be reaching out to you. Suicidal risk is based on many clues and these clues can be divided into four categories:
Situational clues: One or more significant losses may have occurred.
- Overwhelming loss(es): death of a loved one, break-up with a partner, etc.
- Loss of highly valued entities: support systems, social institutions, etc.
- Loss of status or opportunity: rejection from graduate school, not being accepted into major of choice, loss of status on the job
Emotional clues: Several depressive symptoms often are present.
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Difficulty concentrating
- Eating much more or much less than usual
- Low energy
- No longer interested in previously pleasurable activities
- Poor self-care (not showering/dirty clothing)
- Crying spells
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Increased social isolation
- Low self-esteem
- Preoccupation with death
- Hopelessness about the future
- Irritability and mood swings
Verbal clues: Something a person says, overtly or covertly, may communicate a fixation on suicide.
- “I’m going to kill myself.”
- “I wish I were dead.”
- “I don’t see any way out.”
- “My family or everyone would be better off without me.”
- “I just can’t go on or I can’t take it any longer.”
- “I just feel like I am in the way all the time.”
- “Life has lost its meaning for me.”
- “Nobody needs me anymore.”
- “If (such and such) happens I am going to kill myself.”
- “If (such and such) doesn’t happen I’ll kill myself.”
- “I am getting out.”
Behavioral clues: Something the person does may communicate a self-destructive motive.
- A previous suicide attempt, particularly a recent or highly lethal attempt
- Giving away valued possessions
- Procuring means: buying a gun, asking for sedatives, etc.
- Composing a suicide note
- Putting personal affairs in order
- Poor adjustment to recent loss of loved one
- Sudden, unexplained recovery from a severe depression
- Resigning from social groups, extracurricular activities, not attending classes
- Bizarre or inappropriate behaviors
- Crying spells without external triggers
- Becoming disorganized, loss of contact with reality
- Any unexplained change in typical behavior (change in grades, increased aggression, drug use, mood changes, social withdrawal, acting out sexually)
- Visiting a physician for unexplained or vague symptoms (75% of successful suicides were preceded by just such a visit within one month of suicide)
- Substance abuse: Alcohol, and/or other drugs
- Change in eating behaviors; e.g., overeating or loss of appetite
How to Help:
- Talk about suicide openly and directly.
- Try to sound calm and understanding.
- Be confident and caring, and know the resources available.
- Take charge and call or walk the student to Counseling and Psychological Services.
What to Avoid:
- Don’t sound shocked by anything the person tells you.
- Don’t emphasize the shock and embarrassment that the suicide would be to the person’s family before you’re certain that’s what he/she hopes to accomplish.
- Don’t ignore comments such as, “The world would be better off without me.”
- Don’t engage in a philosophical debate on the moral aspects of suicide. You may not only lose the debate, but also the suicidal person.
- Don’t get too personally involved with the student.
The Suspicious Student
Usually suspicious students complain about something other than their psychological difficulties.
They may present themselves to you as:
- Having few friends
Suspicious students tend to interpret a minor oversight as significant personal rejection
and often overreact to insignificant occurrences. They see themselves as the focal
point of everyone’s behavior, and everything that happens has special meaning. Usually
they are overly concerned with fairness and being treated equally. They may blame
others and express anger. Many times they will feel worthless
How to Help:
- Send clear, consistent messages regarding what you are willing to do and what you expect.
- Express compassion without being overly friendly or familiar.
- Be aware of personal boundaries and space when interacting and keep a comfortable distance.
- Assure him/her that you will be fair.
- Encourage them to seek help, possibly suggesting Counseling and Psychological Services.
What to Avoid:
- Don’t be overly warm or sympathetically close to the student.
- Don’t flatter the student, laugh with them or be humorous.
- Don’t assure the student that you are their friend or advocate.
The Student Under the Influence
Alcohol abuse destroys lives. In a recent survey, college presidents identified alcohol abuse as the campus life issue of greatest concern. The costs are staggering – in terms of academic failure, vandalism, sexual assault, and other consequences.
Warning Signals of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse
There are many signs of alcohol and/or other drug use, abuse, and addiction. None of these signs alone are conclusive proof of an alcohol or other drug problem. Other conditions could be responsible for unusual behavior, such as an illness or a reaction to a legally prescribed drug. Any one sign, or a combination of them, could be cause for alarm and could signal problems in general as well as a substance abuse problem.
Impairment, Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Alcohol and/or drug abuse can impair a student in several different ways:
Impairment of Mental Alertness
- Extreme mood swings
- Flat or unresponsive behavior
- Loss of interest in one’s work/school results
Impairment of Motor Behavior
- Hand tremors
- Loss of balance
- Loss of coordination
- Excessive movement (fidgets all the time)
Impairment of Interpersonal Relationships
- Detachment from or drastic changes in social relationships
- Becoming a loner or becoming secretive
- Loss of interest in appearance
- Change of friends
- Extreme change in interests
- Tendency to lose temper
- Being argumentative
- Borrowing money and not repaying
Impairment of Academic and Work Performance
- Inability to perform work assignments at usual level of competence
- Missed deadlines, classes or meetings
- Increased absenteeism or lateness
- Accidents in the lab
- Complaining or feeling ill as an excuse for poor performance
- Coming to class, practice, or work intoxicated/high
- Legal problems associated with alcohol use
How to Help:
- Accept and acknowledge feelings of student.
- Focus on the behavior: what specifically occurred to cause concern.
- Permit the student to say how they regard the problem.
- Find out source of emotional support that the student trusts. Encourage involvement from friends, family doctor, minister or employer.
- Be willing to admit the limitations of your assistance and refer to specialists and/or Counseling and Psychological Services.
What to Avoid:
- Don't pass judgment or be critical of a student’s substance use.
- Don't make allowances for the student’s irresponsible behavior.
- Don't ignore signs of intoxication.
Violence and the Verbally Aggressive Student
Verbal aggression and violent behaviors have increased on university campuses nationwide. In an attempt to dissuade the occurrence of violence, UCR has established a zero-tolerance violence policy.
Students usually become verbally abusive in frustrating situations they perceive as being beyond their control. Anger becomes displaced from those situations onto the nearest target (you). Explosive outbursts or ongoing belligerent hostile behavior become the student’s way of gaining power and control.
It is important to remember that typically the student is not angry with you personally,
but at his/her world. You are simply an object of pent-up frustrations.
Violence because of emotional distress is rare and typically occurs when the student’s level of frustration becomes so intense as to erode all of the student’s emotional controls. This behavior is often associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs.
- Be familiar with UCR’s Zero-Tolerance Policy.
- Be familiar with your Departmental Safety Plan.
- Ensure that you have a way to communicate for help (phone, panic alarm, etc.).
- Be observant of student’s behaviors and your surroundings.
- Consult, consult, and consult:
- The following offices are available to assist you: Campus Police (951-827-5222)
Dean of Students (951-827-4595)
Student Conduct & Academic Integrity Programs (951-827-4208)
Counseling and Psychological Services (951-827-5531)
Employee Assistance Program (951-781-0510)
- Don’t meet alone with a student that you feel is potentially violent.
- Alert a colleague that you will be meeting with the potentially violent person and have that colleague ready to assist. Have a police officer “on call” or with you as the circumstances dictate.
- At the Time of the Incident
How to Help:
- Remain calm. Get help if needed. Take deep breaths.
- Stay SAFE. Have access to a door. Keep large furniture such as a desk between you and the student.
- Maintain a posture that is posed, ready to move quickly, but not fearful. Be aware of everything in the room.
- Acknowledge their anger and frustration. (e.g. “I can hear how upset you are and nobody will listen.”)
- Reduce stimulation. Invite the person to a quiet place if this is comfortable.
- Be directive and firm about behaviors you will accept (e.g., “I need for you to step back.” “I’m having a hard time understanding you when you yell.”)
- Allow them to ventilate, get the feelings out, and tell you what is upsetting them.
- If possible, leave an unobstructed exit for the person.
What to Avoid:
- Don’t ignore warning signs (body language, clenched fists).
- Don’t get into an argument or shouting match.
- Don’t become hostile or punitive yourself. (e.g. “You can’t talk to me that way!”)
- Don’t press for explanations for their behavior.
- Don’t make threats or dares.
- Don’t corner or touch the student.
If the student becomes violent:
- Remove yourself from the situation when the threat is immediate.
- If a weapon becomes evident, leave.
- Call the police for help (911).
- Report any threats of physical harm or violent incidents to Campus Police (911) and your department immediately.
After the Incident
- Follow your departmental safety plan.
- Debrief with your supervisor.
- Debrief with a counselor at the Counseling and Psychological Services (951) 827-5531 or EAP (951) 781-0510.
- You may also contact the Campus Police (951) 827-5222, Dean of Students (951) 827-4595 to alert the Critical Student Incident Team or Student Conduct & Academic Integrity Programs (951) 827-4208.
UC faculty/staff and graduate teaching/research assistants are in a unique
position to demonstrate compassion for UC students in distress.
Both undergraduate and graduate students may feel alone, isolated, and even
hopeless when faced with academic and life challenges. These feelings can
easily disrupt academic performance and may lead to dysfunctional coping
and other serious consequences.
You may be the first person to SEE SOMETHING distressing in a
student since you have frequent and prolonged contact with them. The
University of California, in collaboration with the California Mental Health
Services Authority (CalMHSA), requests that you act with compassion in
your dealings with such students.
Students exhibiting troubling behaviors in your presence are likely having
dificulties in various settings including the classroom, with roommates, with
family, and in even in social settings.
Trust your instincts and SAY SOMETHING if a student leaves you feeling
worried, alarmed, or threatened!
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) permits
communication about a student of concern in connection with a health and
safety emergency. Observations of a student’s conduct or statements made by
a student are not FERPA protected. Such information should be shared with
appropriate consideration for student privacy.
Sometimes students cannot, or will not turn to family or friends. DO
SOMETHING! Your expression of concern may be a critical factor in saving
a student’s academic career or even their life.
The Assisting Students in Distress - Red Folder folder is one of the resources created to help you recognize symptoms of student
distress and identify appropriate referrals to campus resources.