Strategies for Responding to Students in Distress

Make Contact:

  • Talk with the student in person
  • Stay calm and express your concern for the student
  • Listen carefully
  • Take the student seriously
  • Use supportive communication

Supportive Communication:


  • Be patient, give the student the opportunity to talk
  • Let the student know you are listening via your verbal and non-verbal responses
  • Set aside your biases
  • Be non-judgemental
  • Determine what the student needs from you


  • Minimize the student's feelings
  • Express disapproval of the student's thoughts or feelings
  • Ask "Why" questions
  • Be defensive or personalize what the student is saying

Be Aware of Your Own Limitations:

  • Consult with one of the personal counsellors at SDC (519.661.3031) or SHS (519.661.3771)
  • Do not take on too much responsibility
  • Do not deal with a crisis alone
  • Do get other people involved

What to Say:

Make a general statement such as: "You seem to be fairly upset about this and I think that you could use some help in sorting out these issues. I am concerned about you and I would like you to consider talking with one of the personal counsellors at the Counselling Centre."

If the referral is rejected, do not take it personally. Listen to the student's concerns about seeking help. Normalize the referral process, making it clear that your wanting the student to see a counsellor does not mean that you think that there is something wrong with the student. Emphasize that the Western's Counselling Services are free and easy to access, and that the student can check it out to see if it is helpful. Keep the lines of communication open.


Mental Health Videos

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