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The University of Texas at Austin - What Starts Here Changes The World The University of Texas at Austin Division of Student Affairs

Supporting Students in Distress:
A Guide for Faculty and Staff

Why Students Encounter Stress

Students encounter stress from various sources, including academics, family struggles, social dynamics, work obligations and financial worries. While many students are able to independently navigate the challenges of college life, some find the pressures overwhelming.

Ineffectively managing emotional stress poses a significant threat to a student's overall well-being. The expression of interest and concern by a faculty or staff member can play a crucial role in helping a struggling student regain the emotional balance essential for success in a university environment.

Your willingness to assist students in distress is influenced by your personal style and beliefs regarding the extent of responsibility for fostering students' emotional and intellectual growth. Some students may be more receptive to assistance than others, and factors like class size and the nature of your relationship with the student can impact the interactions you have. It is vital to be realistic about what support you can provide when deciding how to help a student.

Levels of Distress


Signs: Visible distress, crying, irritability, anger, fights/arguments, anxiety, personal loss or traumatic life events, declining academic performance, social withdrawal, increased alcohol and/or drug use.

What to do: Initiate a conversation with the student, consider utilizing campus resources, or contact BCAL (Behavior Concerns Advice Line) for coordinated university services. A helpful approach is to start a conversation with the student you’re concerned about by stating what you’ve noticed, followed by a question, e.g., “I’ve noticed you’ve seemed down recently. Is there anything you’d like to talk about?’

BCAL: 512-232-5050 or report online at
Counseling and Mental Health Center: 512-471-3515, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.)


Signs: Expressions of hopelessness, talk of suicide or harm to others, being out of touch with reality.

What to do: If you observe warning signs of suicide, ask the student directly, ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’ If the answer is ‘yes’, remain calm, express care and concern, and connect them to a resource. Reassure them by saying, ‘This is really brave of you to share, and I want you to know I’m here for you. I do need to connect you with someone on campus who can help you through this.’ Next, get immediate assistance.

BCAL: 512-232-5050 or report online at
Counseling and Mental Health Center: 512-471-3515, Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988

Consider escorting the student to the Counseling and Mental Health Center on the 5th floor of the Student Services Building (Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.)


Signs: Immediate threat of harm to self or others.

What to do: Seek immediate assistance by calling 911.

Lastly, supporting students in distress can be emotionally challenging. It's crucial to prioritize your well-being. Don't hesitate to reach out for assistance from colleagues and supervisors. Engaging with a counselor can also provide valuable support. Counseling services are accessible at no cost for faculty and staff members covered by UT's health insurance benefits through the Employee Assistance Program.

To obtain handout copies of this material transformed into a Quick Response Guide for faculty and staff on supporting students in distress, please fill out the form available at this link: Form for Quick Response Guide.

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