Student In Distress

A crisis is a situation in which an individual's typical style of coping is no longer effective, and the emotional or physiological response begins to escalate. As emotions intensify, coping becomes less effective, until the person becomes disoriented, nonfunctional, or attempts harm to self or others. If a student is in a serious mental health crisis, you might see or hear the following:

  • Extreme anxiety resulting in panic reactions
  • Suicidal statements or suicide attempts (including statements posted on social media)
  • Highly disruptive behavior (hostility, aggression, violence)
  • Written or verbal violence or acting out violently
  • Destruction of property or other criminal acts
  • Inability to communicate (garbled or slurred speech, disjointed thoughts)
  • Loss of contact with reality (seeing or hearing things that aren't there, expressing beliefs or actions at odds with reality)

What do you do when a student is in a serious crisis?

If you believe there may be imminent danger of harm to a student or someone else, immediately call UNK Police Department at 308-865-8911. If you need assistance assessing the situation, please call UNK Counseling at 308-865-8248 or the Office of the Dean, Division of Student Affairs at 308-865-8528 between the hours of 8am and 5pm.

Signs of a student in distress

The following is a list of signs that a student may be in distress:

  • Deterioration of quality of work
  • Missed assignments or appointments
  • Repeated absence from class or work
  • Continual requests for unusual accommodations (late papers, extensions, postponed exams, etc.)
  • Essay, papers, or social media posts that have themes of hopelessness, social isolation, rage or despair
  • Lack of engagement in participation-oriented classes
  • Inappropriate disruptions or monopolizing classroom time
  • Unusual or markedly changed pattern of interaction
  • Excessive anxiety, panic, or fatigue
  • Apathy, lack of energy, a change in sleeping or eating habits, or social behavior
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene, work habits, or social behavior
  • Mood elevation
  • Isolation or withdrawal
  • Lack of social outlets or support system
  • Making overt comments about suicide being an option, such as referring to it in conversation or posting about it on social media
  • Giving away treasured personal possessions
  • Increased irritability or aggressive behavior
  • Bizarre ideas, seemingly at odds with the reality of the situation
  • Excessive use of alcohol or other drugs
  • Direct/indirect statements indicating family problems, personal losses such as death of a family member or the break-up of a relationship
  • Expressions of concern about a student by peers
  • Written note, verbal statement or social media post that has a sense of hopelessness or finality
  • Written note, verbal statement or social media post that is disturbing or harassing to others
  • Your sense, however vague, that something is seriously amiss

Helping a student in distress

Faculty, staff and peers are often the first to notice early signs of distress in classrooms and residence halls. Students may initially seek assistance from Residence Assistants, faculty or staff, particularly when they perceive you as available and willing to listen. In addition to the support you can provide, there are also professional support services available to students on campus through the Office of the Dean- Division of Student Affairs and Student Health and Counseling. Privacy laws do not prevent you from reaching out to express your concern about a student in distress.

UNK's CARE Team is a multi-disciplinary body of professional stakeholders from across the campus which receives referrals pertaining to students of concern, collects additional information, and identifies and enacts appropriate strategies for addressing the concerning situation. If you are concerned about a student, please visit the UNK CARE Team website for more information or complete a CARE Team referral form.

What you can do for a student in distress

HelpYou have the opportunity to make an impact on a life by being willing to help. An individual who is distressed often wants assistance, but doesn't know how to ask. Express your concern in a caring, nonjudgmental manner. It's possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel comfortable about what to do next.

  • Find a private (but not secluded), comfortable place to talk. Give the person your undivided attention.
  • Ask the person if they have ever talked about this problem with anyone else, including a professional counselor. Try to get an accurate understanding of the issues, and if appropriate, encourage the student to talk with a professional counselor.
  • Express your concern by using statements such as, "I'm concerned that..."
  • Ask open-ended questions. The student may choose not to answer, but may feel relieved to know you are trying to understand.
  • Don't feel obligated to find a solution. Just being a willing listener can be helpful.
  • Suggest the student get more help. Highlight the helping resources to the student, listed in the "Make A Referral" section.
  • Alert your immediate supervisor of the situation.

How to make a referral

  • For assistance in emergency situations, call the UNK Police Department at 308-865-8911, or dial 911.
  • Recommend that the student make an appointment at UNK Counseling by calling 308-865-8248, Monday-Friday between 8am and 5pm. Please note, after hours, an on-call counselor can be reached by calling UNK Counseling at 308-865-8248; please follow the prompts on the voice message to be connected to the on-call counselor.
  • If the student is hesitant to make an appointment with counseling services, explain to the student that counseling is confidential. This means that information about the student cannot be released to other UNK offices, family members, or any professors without the student's written permission (exception: when the student is in danger of harming self and/or others). Counseling records are not kept with academic records and are protected by law.
  • If you suspect the student has a disability, please refer the student to the Academic Success Office at 308-865-8214.


National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 

Nebraska Family Helpline: 1-888-866-8660

Your Life Your Voice

Trevor Project: for LGBTQ students

Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255

13 Minutes