Assisting Students in Distress

See Something. Say Something. Do Something.

This page serves as a reference guide to help you recognize symptoms of student distress and identify appropriate referrals to campus resources. Remember, you can always ask for help and seek consultation from Counseling Services, your peers, supervisors or the Vice President of Student Affairs.

See Something

Students may feel alone, isolated and even hopeless when faced with challenges in their academic and personal lives. These feelings can disrupt academic performance and lead to dysfunctional coping and other serious consequences. YOU may be the first person to SEE something distressing in a student, especially if you have frequent and prolonged contact with them. As members of the SUNY Morrisville community, it is important that we act with compassion.

Say Something

Students exhibiting troubling behaviors in your presence are likely having difficulties in other areas of their lives, including the classroom, social settings, with roommates or with family. Trust your instincts and SAY SOMETHING if a student leaves you feeling worried, alarmed or threatened. You are not alone nor should you be dealing with any issues alone. Counseling Services consultations, coworkers, supervisors, department chairs and the Coordination, Assess, Response and Educate (CARE) Team all are resources to help.

Do Something

Sometimes students cannot, or will not, turn to family or friends. Your expression of concern may be a critical factor in saving a student’s academic career or their life.

What About Privacy?

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 concerning statements made by a student are not protected by FERPA.

Appropriate consideration for student privacy should be given before information is shared with people other than those suggested in this document.

Indicators of Distress

Use the following to identify a student in distress. Look for context, patterns, frequency, duration and severity.

  • Sudden decline in quality of work and grades
  • Repeated absences
  • Disorganized performance
  • Multiple requests for extensions
  • Overly demanding of faculty or staff time and attention
  • Bizarre content in writings or presentations
  • You find yourself providing more personal than academic support
  • Marked changes in physical appearance (e.g., grooming, hygiene, weight loss/gain)
  • Excessive fatigue or sleep disturbance
  • Intoxication, hangovers or smelling of alcohol/drugs
  • Disoriented or “out of it”
  • Garbled, tangential, disconnected or slurred speech
  • Behavior is out of context, disruptive or bizarre
  • Self-disclosure of personal distress (e.g., family or financial problems, grief, suicidal thoughts)
  • Change in usual demeanor
  • Unusual or disproportionate emotional response to events
  • Excessive tearfulness or panic reactions
  • Irritability or unusual apathy
  • Verbal abuse (e.g., taunting, badgering, intimidation)
  • Concern from peers
  • Unprovoked anger or hostility
  • Physical violence (e.g., shoving, grabbing, assaulting, displaying weapons)
  • Implying or making a threat to harm self or others
  • Academic assignments dominated by themes of hopelessness, rage, worthlessness, isolation, despair, acting out, suicidal ideations or violent behaviors
  • Stalking or harassing


  • Know the available campus resources and the referral process.
  • Review information on privacy rules.
  • If safe, meet privately and always allow sufficient time to meet.
  • Ensure your safety.
  • If you decide not to have direct contact with the student, refer the incident to your supervisor, Office of Student Affairs and CARE Team. It is best if you can have a conversation with the student.
  • Call 911 if a student expresses a direct threat to self or others, or acts in a bizarre, highly irrational and disruptive way.
  • Clearly express your concerns, focusing on the behavior using compassionate terms. 
  • Allow the student to talk and actively listen to them.
  • Do not become argumentative with the student.
  • Ask directly if the students wants to hurt themselves or others.
  • Respect the student’s privacy without making false promises of confidentiality.
  • Document all conversations and attempts to resolve the situation.
  • Consult with Counseling Services for further guidance if needed.
  • Recommend services and provide direct referrals; assist student in contacting resources.
  • Frame any decision to seek and accept help as an individual choice.
  • Clearly explain any actions that are necessary.
  • Be frank with the student about your limits and boundaries (e.g., time, expertise).
  • Encourage and assist the student to make and keep an appointment.
  • Set a follow-up meeting with the student.

Is the student an immediate danger to self or others? Does the student need immediate assistance for any reason?

If a student’s conduct is clearly and imminently reckless, disorderly, dangerous or threatening, including self-harm behaviors or having a weapon, CALL 911 for University Police.

If the student shows signs of distress but you're unsure of how serious it is:

  • If you're not with the student, you can call Counseling Services for a consultation, notify the Office of Student Affairs for CARE Team, or consult with your supervisor
  • If you're with the student, you can have the student call Suicide and Crisis hotline at 988, have the student call another appropriate hotline, or provide resources such as 988, counseling brochure, or emergency card

If you're not concerned for the student's immediate safety but they are having significant academic or personal issues and could use some support, you could call Counseling Services for a consultation, refer the student to the appropriate campus resource office, or provide resources such as 988, a counseling brochure, or emergency card