Assisting students in distress
A guide for SDState faculty and staff to recognize, respond and refer a troubled student.
As a member of the faculty or staff, you may find yourself in a position to observe and recognize changes which signal psychological distress in students. Students often seek out faculty and staff that they see frequently to share their distress. Or you may even note concerning behavior yourself in observing your students. However, to be able to identify students in distress or warning signs, having some guidelines for dealing with the situation can be helpful—and being aware of appropriate referral resources that can be of assistance to you will allow you to be more in control of the situation.
Look for groupings, frequency, and severity of behaviors, not just isolated symptoms.
- Sudden decline in academic performance
- Frequently missing classes or assignments
- Disturbing content in writing or presentations
- Monopolizing class discussion
- Disrupting class (e.g., yelling or cursing)
- Confrontations with peers or instructor
- Repeated requests for special consideration (e.g., deadline extensions, changes in requirements, grade changes)
- Increased illness
- Marked changes in physical appearance (e.g., poor hygiene, sudden weight gain/loss)
- Uncharacteristic behavior indicating loss of contact with reality
- Visibly intoxicated or smelling of alcohol or cannabis
- Rapid speech or excessively anxious or erratic behavior
- Excessive fatigue or sleeping in class
- Observable signs of injury (e.g., facial bruising or cuts)
- Self-disclosure of family problems, financial difficulties, or other personal distress
- Unusual or disproportionate emotional response to situations
- Excessive tearfulness
- Panic reactions
- Uncharacteristically troubled, confused, anxious, irritable, sad, hopeless
- Peers expressing concern for student
- SAFETY RISK
- Verbal, written, or implied intent to harm self or others
- Unprovoked anger, hostility, or physical violence (e.g., shoving, grabbing, assaulting, use of weapon)
- Academic assignments dominated by themes of extreme hopelessness, helplessness, isolation, rage, despair, violence, self-injury
- Stalking or harassing
- Reckless, disorderly, or dangerous conduct
- Making threats or disturbing comments via email, text, phone calls
Use the following to determine the most appropriate response to a student in distress.
Is the student an imminent danger to self or others? Does the student need immediate assistance?
Safety is an immediate concern. The student is imminently dangerous and actively threatening harm to self or others. Call 911 or University Police Department at 605-688-5117 without hesitation.
Safety is not an immediate concern. However, the student is disruptive to the living-learning environment, exhibiting several indicators of distress. I need more guidance. Contact the Office of the Dean of Students. For additional mental health consultation, call Counseling Services at 605-688-6146.
No concern for the student's immediate safety. However, the student is having serious academic and/or personal issues. I believe they could benefit from additional support and resources. Refer the student to the resources.
Help students in distress access a support network with these referral tips and resources.
- Use Active Listening.
Make eye contact and give your full attention. Restate what the student says to make sure you understand what is causing their distress.
- 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.
- Give Concrete Help.
If comfortable doing so, offer to help them call a campus resource such as the Counseling Services or to walk with them to the resource office or complete the Report a student in distress form on InsideState.
- Inform Your Supervisor.
Make sure to alert your supervisor/chair about your interaction. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) permits communication about a student of concern in connection with a health and safety emergency.
Mandatory Reporting Requirements
If a student discloses an incident of sexual or gender-based harassment or assault, it must promptly be reported to the Title IX Coordinator at 605-688-4128.
A list of the emergency, urgent and additional resources:
- Counseling Services
Got something on your mind? Need a little extra support? We know adjusting to university life can be stressful. Meeting new people, figuring out where you fit in, wondering how you'll manage everything all at once... it's overwhelming. You'll be relieved to know that SDSU also provides personal and confidential assistance on campus through Counseling Services as no charge to the student. Whether you dealt with emotional difficulties before coming here to SDSU or they have started to affect your studies now, we are here to provide support. For privacy information click here. Our experienced and qualified counseling staff can help. We offer individual, group and couple therapy.
- Disability Services
Our office provides assistance for students with a wide range of disabilities. To receive accommodations, students must contact the office and complete the Student Information Form. Documentation of the disability is required along with this application. The Disability Office will set up an appointment to discuss services that can be provided to enhance the learning experiences at SDSU. Some of the accommodations Disability Services can provide include: Alternative text formats Sign language interpreters Notetakers Assistive technology Alternative accommodations for exams (for example: testing in a distraction-reduced environment or providing readers for exams) Extended time for testing Referrals to other resource The Office of Disability Services respects all privacy and treats all personal information with confidentiality. The office may release information to university faculty and staff when a “need to know” is established by Disability Services. The need to know must be based on compelling and legitimate educational reasons for the information disclosure.
- Student Health Services
The mission of South Dakota State University Student Health Clinic and Counseling Services is to promote the health and wellness of the university community, to enhance student retention, and to support academic and personal success of all students. The Student Health Clinic is located in the Wellness Center at South Dakota State University. We specialize in college health. We offer high quality primary care services. We understand today's college students and are committed to assisting with your healthcare needs. If you wish to make an appointment please call 605-688-4157.
- American Indian Student Center
In addition to serving as a hub of programming, resources and services, the American Indian Student Center (AISC) is a welcoming home away from home for American Indian students. The Center staff serve as student advocates and includes faculty and staff who understand the distinctiveness of the matriculation, transition, persistence and graduation of AI/AN college students. The Center offers personalized support for prospective and current students that focuses on areas, such as (but not limited to): Retention Advisement, Advocacy, Social, Cultural and Academic Programming, Student Leadership Development, Community and Professional Referrals, Financial Aid Guidance, Enrollment and Registration Assistance
- LGBTQIA+ Resource Center
The mission of the South Dakota State University LGBTQIA+ Resource Center is to provide community and campus resources to LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, and staff at our university as well as residents of the Brookings community.
- Multicultural Center
The Multicultural Center at South Dakota State University develops campus initiatives that demonstrate the valued practice and philosophy of multiculturalism within the university community. Programs and activities developed by the office promote high achievement among the increasing number of minority students at South Dakota State University. The office enhances the University mission by broadening the social, cultural, educational, and recreational experience of students. The Multicultural Center is located in the University Student Union.
- Veterans Affairs Resource Center
The mission of South Dakota State University Veterans Affairs Resource Center is to assist military veterans, their family members and their survivors in obtaining all federal and state educational benefits and entitlements they have earned by serving in the United States military, and to provide guidance and support services that will aid veterans in their transition to academic and civilian life.
- Financial Aid
We offer an incredible education at an affordable cost. About 88 percent of our students receive some type of financial assistance to help cover that cost each year. Financial limitations should never prohibit a student from going to college. SDSU is committed to helping students find the resources available to help pay for college. The Financial Aid Office is a member of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), and our staff follow the NASFAA Code of Conduct and Ethical Principals. We’re here to help.
- First Year Advising Center
At the First-Year Advising Center, your academic advisor will help you get your feet on the ground and create a solid support system before you become immersed in your professional program. Whether you have questions about academics, personal concerns, or setting goals, your first-year advisor is here to help.
- Jackrabbit Pharmacy
The Jackrabbit Pharmacy doors are closed through May 15th. However, phone messages will be checked daily, Monday through Friday (605-688-5410). Please leave a message and we will call you back. We can transfer your prescription for you or schedule for a prescription pick-up. If you need an over-the-counter item, the vending machine is available during clinic hours or you may call ahead and we can arrange for pick-up.
- Office of International Affairs
The Office of International Affairs (OIA) is the comprehensive home for international student and scholar services, international undergraduate admission, study abroad planning and community connections programs. All services and activities are intended to help enrich the experience of international students here at SDSU and to expand global engagement for all students, faculty and staff.
- Office of Career Development
Facilitating the transition from student to professional and helping students and employers connect are two goals that drive the services of the Office of Career Development. From students exploring career options and job possibilities to employers posting jobs and conducting on-campus interviews, we provide help both online and in person.