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Minnesota State University, Mankato
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Helping Students in Distress

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General Guidelines


The first important step in assisting a student is to be familiar with the symptoms of distress. Pay close attention to direct communications as well as to implied or hidden feelings. Focus on the observable symptoms and how they are impacting the student's life.

Initiate Contact

Don't ignore strange, inappropriate, or unusual behavior(s). Talk to the student in question privately, in a direct and matter-of-fact manner, indicating your observations and concerns. Be sure to focus on the behaviors that were displayed and express your concern about how these behaviors are impacting the student. Early feedback, intervention and/or referral can prevent more serious problems from developing.

Offer Support and Assistance

Your interest, attentive listening, and concern may be pivotal in helping a troubled student. Avoid criticisms or sounding judgmental. Allow the student time to respond and acknowledge that their perception may be different. Summarize the essence of what the individual has told you as a way of clarifying the situation. Validate the student's feelings while also encouraging positive action by helping the student to define the problems and generate coping strategies.

Refer to the Counseling Center

Know your limits as a helper and only go as far as your expertise and resources allow. When a student needs more help than you are able or willing to give, a referral is appropriate (click here for how to make a referral). It is important to follow up with a student after you make a referral; this conveys your interest. You can also help reduce the stigma associated with counseling by not avoiding the topic, though such discussions should be held privately.