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Assisting students in distress

A guide for SDSU faculty and staff to recognize, respond and refer a troubled student.

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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 and hopeless.
  • Peers expressing concern for student.
  • 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.
Report It


A list of the emergency, urgent and additional resources:

Counseling Services is located in the Miller Wellness Center. SDSU offers access to a wide variety of mental health services at no extra cost to registered students. Using a stepped care approach to mental health, our team of experienced mental health counselors offers various services, including group therapy, wellness workshops and short-term individual counseling to support students with emotional, behavioral and academic concerns. Students are encouraged to utilize walk in screenings appointments with a counselor to determine the best path for obtaining mental health services. The SDSU Counseling Services also provides after hours crisis response and intervention. 

Phone Number: 605-688-4157
Counseling Services | Email

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 and 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.

Phone Number: 605-688-4504
Disability Services | Email

The Student Health Clinic is located in the Miller Wellness Center. We understand today’s college students and are committed to assisting with SDSU students’ healthcare needs. We specialize in college health, staffed by certified nurse practitioners, registered nurses and lab technicians who offer high-quality health care services. If you wish to make an appointment, please call 605-688-4157 or go to their the Jacks portal to self-schedule. 

Phone Number: 605-688-4157
Student Health ClinicEmail

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 and enrollment and registration assistance.

Phone Number: 605-688-6416
American Indian Student CenterEmail

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.

Phone Number: 605-688-5585 
LGBTQIA+ Resource CenterEmail

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.

Phone Number: 605-688-5585
Multicultural CenterEmail

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.

Phone Number: 605-688-4700
Veterans Affairs Resource CenterEmail

We offer an incredible education at an affordable cost. About 88% 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.

Phone Number: 605-688-4695
Financial AidEmail

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.

Phone Number: 605-688-4155
First-Year Advising CenterEmail

The Jackrabbit Pharmacy is located in the Miller Wellness Center. We are available Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. A variety of over the counter (OTC) items are available at competitive prices. We also offer insurance filing. To accommodate students, OTC items are available for purchase using Hobo Dough in the pharmacy vending machine located in the spine of the Miller Wellness Center. Special order products are available upon request.

Phone: 605-688-5410

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.

Phone: 605-688-4122
Office of International Affairs | Email

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.

Office of Career Development