Dealing with students in a crisis

You can help a student in crisis if you know how to identify signs of distress, assess the situation and when to refer them for help.

Signs of distress

Some signs will be obvious, while others will only become apparent if you talk to the student.

  • Depression: poor concentration, social withdrawal, poor hygiene, loss of self-esteem, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, sleep disturbances, change in appetite, preoccupation with death.
  • Agitation or acting out: changes in behaviour which may include being disruptive, restless or hyperactive, argumentative or hostile.
  • Disorientation: seeming 'out of it' by forgetting or losing things, misinterpreting facts or reality, rambling or disconnected speech, behaving in ways that are out of context or bizzare.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse: signs of intoxication in class or when communicating with staff
  • Suicidal thoughts: comments ranging from 'I don't want to be here' to vague goodbyes and 'I'm going to kill myself'.
  • Violence and aggression: making threats (verbal or in letters, email or messages in exams or assignments), harassing or stalking, physical violence.

How to help

You might be the first to notice a student in distress. If so:

  • Take the matter seriously - even attention-seekers can have serious problems and need help.
  • Ask direct questions - if you're concerned about a behaviour, ask the student directly (if they are drunk, confused or are thinking of harming themselves). Be calm and matter-of-fact.
  • Know your limits - if dealing with a student makes you feel stressed or overwhelmed, afraid or angry, relive similar experiences, then encourage them to seek professional help.
  • Avoid making it worse - distressed students can be easily provoked, so avoid humiliating, intimidating or threatening responses.
  • Keep safety in mind - maintain a safe distance and identify an escape route in case you need it. Call campus security on 333 if you or the student is in immediate danger.
  • Contact counselling for help and advice.