Is This a Crisis?


You can’t tell how to help a person just by looking at them. When you are worried about a student, we encourage you to use the B.E.A.R Project steps to engage with the student and find out more about their needs. Gaining an understanding of whether they are in a moment of stress, distress or crisis will help you tailor your intervention.

All humans experience the physiological, emotional and cognitive aspects of stress when we encounter strain related to difficult or demanding circumstances. The occasional experience of manageable levels of stress is part of the human experience and can even at times help to motivate us to make progress towards achieving our goals.

Students are likely to be able to navigate a moment of stress using their own resources. If you are connecting with a student in a moment of stress, be yourself: listen, validate and lead with empathy.

Learn more about what you can do to help a student.

We experience distress when our typical coping strategies are not working and our functioning is thus negatively impacted. Distress happens when:

  1. Stress has accumulated over time.
  2. A significant life stressor (for example, a change in family status, breakup of a relationship) has suddenly occurred.

An appropriate intervention for distress: Students will continue to benefit from an empathetic response when they are experiencing distress. Additionally, it can be useful to ask the student if you would like to identify resources together that might mitigate some of their distress. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and Student Support Services are available to support students in distress. At times, students in distress may benefit as much from being connected to academic or peer resources.

If distress is not attended to it is possible for a student to experience a mental health crisis. The B.E.A.R. Project defines a crisis in two primary ways:

  1. The student is at risk of harming themselves or others.
  2. The student’s behavior has changed markedly (for example, they appear to be responding to stimuli that you cannot see or hear) so that you are worried about their ability to take care of themselves.

An appropriate intervention for a crisis: If you are worried about their safety, the B.E.A.R. Project encourages you to ask the student directly about whether they are thinking about hurting themselves or others.

You are not alone in supporting a student who is experiencing a crisis. The primary resource for supporting a student in crisis is Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). If you are in a situation where you feel like you cannot leave a student alone, for fear they will hurt themselves, it is important to access EMS for immediate support. Student Support Services is also available as a resource during business hours and the Administrator on Call after hours.