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Counseling Center

Humphreys 131
Warrensburg, MO 64093
Phone: 660.543.4060
Hours: 8 AM-12PM, 1PM-5PM
Summer: M-TH 7:30AM-12PM,1PM-4:30PM



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Assisting the Emotionally Distressed Student: A Guide for Faculty and Staff

A Missouri Partners in Prevention publication

A printable guide is available in pdf:

As faculty and staff members, you are in good positions to recognize students who are in distress. To support your efforts, here is practical information about how to assist students effectively and access helping resources quickly. This brochure will discuss general signs that a student is in distress and how you might respond. It will also address special circumstances you might encounter, including the student with alcohol and drug problems, the student who has been victim of sexual assault, the student who has been a victim of discrimination or hate crimes, and the threatening or potentially dangerous student.

Recognizing Students in Distress

Distress is a natural part of life and no stranger to university students. Many students successfully cope with the realities of college life, but for some the stressors are overwhelming and unmanageable. And, unfortunately, a small number of students will be subjected to sexual assault, discrimination and hate crimes, and sexual harassment. Whatever the cause of students’ distress, the emotional and behavioral consequences are often played out on campus in classrooms, residence halls, or offices. Faculty and staff members will not be able to spot every such student, and not every student you approach will be willing to accept your assistance. Still, just by being available and ready to listen, you may play an important role in helping a student regain the emotional balance needed to cope with his or her circumstances and get back on track.

What to Look For:

1) Marked Changes in Academic Performance or Behavior

2) Unusual Behavior or Appearance

3) References to Suicide, Homicide or Death

What You Can Do:

If you choose to approach a student you’re concerned about or if a student reaches out to you for help with personal problems, here are some suggestions for helpful responses:

1) Talk

2) Listen

3) Communicate

4) Give Hope

5) Maintain

6) Refer to other resources when:

Special Considerations:

How to Respond to Alcohol/Drug Abuse, Sexual Assault, Discrimination & Hate Crimes, and the Potentially Violent Student

All of the previous recommendations are still applicable for these special circumstances, but there are some important aspects to keep in mind if a student shows signs of distress in the following areas.

When Alcohol/Drugs are the Problem:

Many of the signs and symptoms of alcohol and drug abuse are similar to the signs of distress listed previously. In addition, you might observe:

If you are concerned that a student is abusing alcohol or drugs, here are some helpful strategies:

If your confrontation does not result in a referral for treatment:

Helping A Sexually Assaulted Student:

If a student tells you she or he was sexually assaulted, here are specific tips to guide your response:

Responding to Discrimination/ Hate Crimes:

Sadly, university campuses are not immune to discrimination and hate crimes. Hate crimes are defined as violent acts against people, property, or organizations because of the group to which a person belongs. The violence can range from verbal harassment, threats, assault, and vandalism, to murder. Victims of hate crimes are likely to recover more quickly when they are given support and access to appropriate resources as soon as possible.

Responding to Threatening or Potentially Dangerous Students:

A student whose behavior has become threatening, disruptive, or violent requires a different kind of approach. A very small number of students become aggressive when they are extremely frustrated by a situation that seems beyond their control. Students rarely become violent but it does occur and it is important to know how to respond. Here are some guidelines.

1) If you feel uneasy about a student’s behavior:

2) If a threatening or violent situation occurs during class:

3) If you are alone with an angry, verbally abusive, or physically threatening student:

Who Can Help?

This is a brief list of resources available to assist students with their physical, emotional, and academic well-being. You are encouraged to call and consult about your concerns and how to make a successful referral.

Counseling Center 660-543-4060
Provides free and confidential services to students: crisis intervention, individual, couples, and group counseling. Regular hours are weekdays 8 a.m. - noon and 1 - 5 p.m. Humphreys Building, Suite 131.

University Health Services 660-543-4770
Provides medical services, health counseling services, and health education. Hours are 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Public Safety 660-543-4123, also 911
Offers emergency response for any crisis or safety concern.

What Students May Expect at the Counseling Center:

Students should make their own appointments if possible. You may assist by offering the student immediate use of your phone. Although there is frequently a waiting list for services, the receptionist will arrange for the student to meet with a staff member as soon as possible and there are daily openings for crisis situations.

NOTE: For help with crises after hours, a student may call 911,or go directly to the Western Missouri Medical Center ER.

At their appointment, the student completes information forms before meeting with a psychologist. This will take about 10-15 minutes. The student will then speak with a psychologist for an assessment interview. Treatment recommendations and necessary referrals may be made to best meet the student’s needs.

Much of the material in this publication was prepared by the Kansas State University Counseling Services and is used with their permission. We thank them for this important resource. The information on alcohol and drug abuse was prepared by the Wellness Resource Center and ADAPT office at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and the information on sexual assault was prepared by the MU Rape Education Office,573-882-6638.

For additional resources, please visit our Resources and Self Help pages.

Click one of the following for a printable CC brochure: