Responding to students in distress
The Red Folder initiative is a guide to help faculty, staff and others who interact with students to recognize, respond effectively to, and refer distressed student at UW-Parkside.
These are the most common signs of distress. Students may present with signs that are not listed.
Sudden decline in quality of work and grades
Frequently missed classes and assignments
Disturbing content in writing or presentations
Consistently seeking personal rather than professional advice
Multiple requests for extensions or special considerations (a change from prior functioning)
Doesn't respond to repeated requests for contact or meetings
Academic assignments dominated by themes of extreme hopelessness, helplessness, isolation, rage, despair, violence or self-harm
Self-disclosure of personal distress like family problems, financial difficulties, assault, discrimination or legal difficulties
Unusual or disproportionate emotional response to events
Excessive tearfulness, panic reactions
Verbal abuse like taunting, badgering or intimidation
Expression of concern about the student by peers
Marked changes in physical appearance like poor grooming or hygiene or sudden changes in weight
Strange or bizarre behavior indicating loss of contact with reality
Visibly intoxicated or smelling of alcohol or marijuana
Rapid speech or manic behavior
Depressed or lethargic mood or functioning
Observable signs of injury like facial bruising or cuts
Verbal, written or implied references to suicide, homicide, assault or self-harm behavior
Unprovoked anger or hostility
Physical violence like shoving, grabbing, assaulting or use of a weapon
Stalking or harassing
Communicating threats or disturbing comments in person or via email, text or phone call
Use these important tips to determine the most appropriate response for a distressed student.
If there is an imminent danger to you, the student, or someone else, call 911.
Take your time.
If this is not an imminently dangerous situation, take time to listen to the student's concerns and how you might be able to help.
Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself. Use a calm voice when talking and asking questions.
Use active listening
Make eye contact, give your full attention. Restate what the student says to make sure you understand what is causing the distress, and/or what they are asking for help with.
Ask direct questions
Don't be afraid to directly ask the student if they are having thoughts of harming themselves or others. By asking, you are not instilling the thought.
Connect the student with the appropriate campus resource(s) for additional support.
Does the student need immediate assistance?
What to do:
- Is there an imminent danget to you, the student, or someone else? Call 911
- Report the concern
I'm Not Sure
Signs of distress are visible but the severity is unclear. The interaction has left you feeling uneasy or concerned about the student and you’re not sure how to proceed.
What to do:
- Consult with Student Health and Counseling on how best to support the student.
What to do:
- See our list of campus resouces below to connect the student with support on campus.