What Can I Do?

When you think  a student may be in difficulty, there are some simple things you can do to help. This page provides additional detail about each of these steps:

1. Seek consultation and advice Talk to someone who can listen to your concerns and help you plan what to do -- or who can take action to contact the student you are worried about.
2. Engage with the student directly

a. Talk with the student -- expressing your concern directly to the student may be critically helpful.

b. Refer the student to a resource -- you can help a student get over the initial hurdle of connecting with a resource by helping them call to schedule an appointment or by physically accompanying them to the resource.

3. Follow up If you referred the student to a specific person or office, call that person or office to let them know you have referred a student to them.

1. Seek consultation and advice

When possible, consult with others who may help you think about what you are observing and weigh the options about what to do -- or who can take action to contact the student you are worried about.

  • Call to talk with a dean or colleague who is a University consultation and referral resource
  • In addition:
    • Faculty or staff may want to consult their department chair, supervisor, or a trusted colleague.
    • Undergraduates may want to consult with a Residential Peer Leader, Meiklejohn, or other peer leader on campus.
    • Any student concerned about another student they know (through a lab, class, student organization, team, etc.) may talk to affiliated faculty, supervisors, advisors, coaches, chaplains or religious life affiliates, or other staff who would be useful resources.

2. Engage the student directly

a. Talk with the student personally

Express care. Often people who are having a difficult time feel isolated and alone; an expression of concern is helpful in itself. Choose a location and time that both respects the student's privacy and keeps your own safety in mind, and start by sharing with the student what you have observed (or what was reported to you) that has led you to be concerned.

Use language that is non-judgmental and specific/descriptive. Examples include: "I noticed you [description of behavior witnessed] a few minutes ago," "I've noticed that [indicate change in behavior that raised concern], "You seem more [description of behavior observed] than usual," "Someone who cares about you shared with me his/her concern that you [describe behavior] recently."

Ask an open-ended question, or make a general statement that will allow the student to respond ("I would like to be helpful in some way," "Can you tell me how things are going?").

Give the student time to respond. You do not need to solve his or her problem, but it is important that you try to listen carefully. Reflect back what you hear both to communicate to the student that he/she was heard and that you have understood them correctly. As appropriate, express empathy, concern, and you care for the student ("What you just shared sounds really challenging.")

Here are other things to keep in mind regarding these conversations:

  • Choose a location with some privacy.
  • Avoid "yes/no" questions. (Questions such as "Are you all right?" often elicit the answer "yes," regardless of the true circumstance)
  • There is no one right way to have these conversations; each individual finds a style that works for him or her.
  • Although your main goal is to be supportive to the student and to provide information about campus resources, there are times when students are so anxious, confused, or depressed that it is very difficult for them to make decisions or take action. Then it is helpful for you to be more directive. ("I do think it is best that we call Counseling and Psychological Services and make an appointment." or "I have a trusted colleague [insert the name of a student support dean, chaplain, CAPS clinician, etc.] that I am confident can help us. How about I give them a call?")
  • Do not put yourself in the position of forcing the student to do something he or she does not want to do. If necessary, a Dean in Student Support Services can require a student to meet with him or her, or with a Counseling and Psychological Services clinician.
  • Do not promise confidentiality. If a student asks you to keep something confidential before he or she tells you what it is, say that you can keep most things confidential, but there may be some things that you would need to take action on, in order to keep the student or others safe. In a life-threatening situation, rapid professional and administrative intervention is needed. You should also know if you are considered a responsible employee that needs to report Title IX related incidents to that Office. You may also refer them to confidential resources, including Counseling and Psychological Services, Health Services, and chaplains in the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life.

b. Refer the student to resources

Offer a few resources. When you have the opportunity, tell the student about appropriate resources and suggest he/she might benefit from connecting with these resources. Often students are more comfortable using a resource if someone they trust endorses their doing so and uses their personal connection with both the student and the resource to help lower any barriers the student may experience.  You might read Tips for referring a student to Counseling & Psychological Services.

Have a phone number written down. If you believe that it is very important for the student to contact one of these offices, it is helpful to have the phone number of the office with you before you begin the conversation. While you are together, you may facilitate the contact by phoning the office, saying you have a student with you, and handing the phone to the student so they may arrange for an appointment.

If you need immediate help... If you believe the student should see someone immediately or very soon (i.e., today) or that additional assistance will help the student overcome any barriers to actually taking advantage of the resource, you can also walk a student over to Counseling and Psychological Services (located on the 5th floor of J. Walter Wilson) or Student Support Services (located on the 4th floor of Graduate Center E). You can also call Student Support Services (401-863-3145) to ask that a dean to meet you and the student where you are. However you make the connection, be sure the office knows the reason for your concern, even in the presence of the student, unless it is not appropriate for some reason.

3. Follow up

If you referred the student to a specific person or office, call that person or office to let them know you have referred a student to them.

  • As appropriate, check-in with the student, at a time and moment that respects the student's privacy. How are they doing? Have they been in contact with University resources? Continue to communicate your care and concern.
  • If you continue to have concerns or observe additional signs, continue to follow-up with and engage University response resources.
  • If you consulted with someone who is an advisor or authority figure for you or the student of concern (coach, supervisor, department chair, etc.), as appropriate, inform that person that you have taken action on your concern.