Assisting Students in Distress

The Office of the Dean of Students has developed this information guide to aid faculty and staff in Recognize, Respond and Refer students experiencing distress.

Immediate Assessment

  • Be aware of the location of the nearest telephone 
  • If you are concerned for your safety or that of others, call 911 immediately 
    • 911 calls on campus will go to Athens County 911 but will be rerouted to Ohio University Police
  • If the student is causing a disruption to the classroom or the office environment but does not pose a threat, discuss the situation with the student and address inappropriate behavior

Helpful Resources at OHIO

Treatment Resources

ResourcePhone Number
Counseling & Psychological Services (CPS)740.593.1616
Psychology and Social Work Clinic740.593.0902
Campus Care (Student Health Center)740.593.1660

Support Resources

ResourcePhone Number
Office of the Dean of Students740.593.1800
Office of Student Accessibility Services740.593.2620
Survivor Advocacy Program740.597.7233
Academic Achievement Center740.593.2644
Suicide & Crisis Lifeline988
Crisis Text Linetext “HOME” to 741.741

Important Numbers To Have

ResourcePhone Number
Ohio University Police Department (OUPD)740.593.1911
Athens Police Department (APD)740.593.6606

Ohio University's Guide to Assist Students in Distress [PDF]

Disruptive Students

If you feel threatened or in danger, call 911

Behavior that interferes with other students, faculty or staff and their access to an appropriate educational or work environment is considered disruptive.

Recognizing Disruptive Behavior

Examples of Disruptive Behavior

  • Disruptive or dangerous
  • Verbal or physical threats
  • Active threats of suicide or homicide and resisting help
  • Yelling or screaming
  • Persistent and unreasonable demands for time and attention
  • Words or actions that have the effect of intimidating or harassing another
  • Words or actions that cause another to fear for their personal safety
  • Threats of physical assault


Disruptive behavior should be documented. Write a factual, detailed account of what occurred. Use concrete terms. Share the documentation appropriately with the Office of the Dean of Students and your immediate supervisor or department head.

Responding to Disruptive Behavior

The Dos

  • Listen through the anger. Use active listening.
  • Acknowledge the feelings of the individual.
  • Allow the person to vent and tell you what is upsetting them.
  • Set limits. Explain clearly and directly what behaviors are acceptable “I will be willing to speak with you as soon as you lower your voice.”
  • Be firm, steady, consistent, and honest.
  • Focus on what you can do to help resolve the situation.
  • Make personal referrals. Give the name of an individual when possible, and call ahead to brief the person.
  • Report to Ohio University Police or the Office of the Dean of Students as appropriate.

The Don'ts

  • Don’t interrupt, particularly during the first 20 to 30 seconds of peak anger.
  • Don’t minimize the situation.
  • Don’t get into an argument or shouting match.
  • Don’t blame, ridicule, or use sarcasm.
  • Don’t touch.
  • Don’t ignore disruptive behavior. 

Distressed Students

For students in crisis (risk of harm to self or others) call 911

While some emotional distress of students is expected, especially during stressful times of the year, you may notice someone acting in a way that is inconsistent with your normal experience with that person.

Recognizing a Student in Distress

Examples of Distressed Behavior

  • Troubled or confused
  • Very sad, anxious, or irritable
  • Lacks motivation
  • Bizarre behavior
  • Lacks concentration

Possible Signs of Distress

  • Marked change in academic performance or behavior
  • Excessive absence or tardiness
  • Trouble eating and/or sleeping
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Disproportionate emotional response to the situation
  • Depressed or lethargic mood
  • Agitated or very rapid speech
  • Marked change in personal hygiene
  • Excessive confusion
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Dependency (individual hangs around or makes excessive appointments to see you)  
  • Strange or bizarre behavior indicating loss of contact with reality
  • Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Verbal or written references to suicide
  • Verbal or written references to homicide or assaultive behavior
  • Isolation from friends, family, or classmates
  • Gives away prized possessions

Assisting Distressed Students

As a staff or faculty member, you are in a good position to identify someone who may be emotionally distressed. You may be able to be a resource in times of trouble. Your expression of interest and concern may be critical factors in helping the student. You should also be able to alert the university so that an appropriate intervention can be made.

The Dos

  • Speak with the student privately.
  • Let them know you are concerned about their welfare.
  • Express your concern in behavioral, non-judgmental terms.
  • Tell them you are willing to help.
  • Listen carefully to what they are troubled about.
  • Help them explore options.
  • Suggest resources.
  • Make referrals to the appropriate campus department.
  • Point out that help is available and seeking such help is a sign of strength and courage, rather than weakness or failure.

The Don'ts

  • Don't promise confidentiality.
  • Don't judge or criticize.
  • Don’t ignore the unusual behavior.
  • Don't make the problem your own.
  • Don't involve yourself beyond the limits of your time or skill.

Referring a Student for Additional Support

If the student is not in crisis but you would like to make a referral for additional support:

  • Counseling and Psychological Services

    Suggest in a caring manner that they may benefit from a meeting with a counselor at Counseling and Psychological Services

    When speaking with the student you may inform that:

    • CPS is a free, on-campus resource for OHIO students*
    • Counseling does not impact or influence academic records
    • Counseling is confidential
    • CPS has a variety of offerings to fit their needs, including drop-in counseling with no appointment needed

    *This resource is covered by their semesterly Wellbeing Fee

  • CARE Team

    The CARE Team at Ohio University provides advisory and consultative services to the Dean of Students. It provides a rapid response to concerns about students and critical situations as well as coordinating with other helpful university and community resources to assist. 

    Ohio University is committed to ensuring a safe environment for students. If a student's behavior endangers their welfare or that of others, the CARE Team may intervene to protect everyone involved. 

    You can make a CARE Team referral in person, online or by calling the Office of the Dean of Students at 740.593.1800.

Printable Guide

View or download this guide in PDF form: 

Guide to Assist Students in Distress [PDF]


**Adapted from materials from the University of Colorado at Boulder, Penn State University, and Ohio State University