Skip to this page's content

Guide for Faculty/Staff and Administration

How to Recognize Students in Distress and How to Help

Prepared by the Committee on Student Health

Aiding Students in Distress
While in college or graduate school, it is not unusual for students to experience personal difficulties that can be heightened by the challenges of maturation, and unfamiliar environment, and academic pressure. Students may experience these difficulties for the first time at Simmons, while others may arrive with pre-existing problems, which resurface in the face of these challenges. These events can often be isolating, bewildering, and discouraging experience for students. Although many of these challenges can resolve themselves over time through the natural process of maturation, many students may need or could benefit tremendously from professional support services at the College. As a faculty member, an administrator, or staff person, you may have observed signs of distress in some of the students you work with. This information is designed to assist you in understanding how to detect what may be early warning signs of a distressed student and how you can assist the student in getting connected to the appropriate sources of help. The extent to which you intervene with a student is always your choice, although your support should not be underestimated, because it can make a critical difference in a student's sense of security, belonging, and ultimate success at the College.

Identifying Warning Signs
Any one of the following indicators alone does not necessarily suggest that the student is experiencing severe distress. However, a combination of these signs may very well indicate that a student needs or is asking for help.

Academic/Work Indicators

  • Deterioration in quality of work
  • Missed assignments or appointments
  • Repeated absence from class, lab, or work
  • Recurring requests for unusual accommodations (extensions for papers, assignments, exams, and change in work hours)
  • Essays, papers, or comments that have themes of hopelessness, social isolation, rage or despair
  • Lack of engagement in participation-oriented classes, with lab partners, or with coworker
  • Inappropriate disruption or monopolization in class

Physical or Psychological Indicators

  • Deterioration in physical appearance or in personal hygiene
  • Excessive fatigue or sleep difficulties
  • Visible increase or decrease in weight

Other factors to Consider

  • Direct statements indicating family problems
  • Personal loss such as death in the family, or break-up of a relationship
  • Expression of concern about student by peers
  • Written note or verbal statement that has a sense of hopelessness or finality
  • Your own sense that something is amiss with the student

Talking With a Student and Making the Referral

  • If possible, speak to a student privately and in person
  • Describe the basis of your concern
  • If you are worried that a student may be depressed or suicidal, don't be afraid to ask about it. Acknowledging a student's pain may be the first step toward getting the vital assistance needed
  • Avoid criticizing or sounding judgmental
  • Listen carefully
  • If asked, do not promise confidentiality (prior assurance can make it difficult to take appropriate action. Assure the student that information will be shared discretely and only because you are concerned for their personal safety and well-being)
  • Consider the student's concern and discuss possible referral options with the student
  • If you are uncertain about referral, feel free to consult the Counseling Center or Student Life for advice
  • Schedule a follow-up meeting to determine the effectiveness of the referral

If the Situation is Urgent:

  • Stay with the student
  • Call the Counseling Center and notify the receptionist of the situation (521-2455)
  • If possible, walk the student to the Counseling Center or contact public safety (521-1112) to escort the student
  • After business hours, contact Public Safety who will notify the staff on-call for assistance

Important Referral Resources

Office of the Dean for Student Life
C-211 MCB
617 521-2124
Mon-Fri 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. and by appointment

Counseling Center
Once Palace Road, P-305
617 521-2455
Mon-Tue-Fri 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m.
Wed & Th 8:30 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Health Center
94 Pilgrim Road, Residence Campus
617 521-1020
Mon-Th 9:00 a.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Fri 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Office of Public Safety
E-007 MCB
617 521-2289 (during business hours)
617 521-1112 (24 hours)
Mon-Tue-Fri 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Wed & Th 8:30 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Office of Residence Life
94 Pilgrim Road, Residence Campus
617 521-1096
618 Mon - Fri 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Academic Support Center
W-107 MCB
617 521-2474
Mon - Fri 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

C-127 MCB
617 521-2468
Tue & Th 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
or by appointment

See Also


One Palace Road
Room P-305
300 The Fenway
Boston, MA 02215


For Counseling Center inquiries, please send your questions/concerns to

Phone: 617-521-2455
Fax: 617-521-3091


During the academic year, the Counseling Center is open during the following hours:

Monday through Friday: 8:30am - 4:30pm