If you think you or someone you know could be suicidal, please call 911 immediately.

You can make a difference when someone is having a rough time.  Sometimes a person needs an empathic ear, a little problem-solving, and/or a resource or a referral to professional help.

If you have a concern, talk with a person directly, consult and use campus resources, or Tell Someone who can follow through and coordinate University services.

If you are considering suicide: Please understand the psychological pain you feel now is not permanent. Counseling is effective. Seeking help is the smart thing to do. Reach out for help.

The following indicators can all be important signs of distress.

You may notice a student or colleague exhibiting one or more of the emotional, cognitive, or physical signs and decide that something is clearly wrong. Or you may have a “gut-level feeling” that something is amiss. If the latter is the case, don’t dismiss your feelings or feel that you need to wait for tangible “proof” that a problem exists. A simple check-in with the person may help you get a better sense of their situation.

Emotional signs

  • Emotional outbursts (unprovoked anger or hostility, sobbing)
  • Exaggerated personality traits; more withdrawn or more animated than usual
  • Expressions of hopelessness, fear or worthlessness; themes of suicide, death and dying in papers or projects
  • Direct statements indicating distress, family problems or other difficulties
  • Peer concern about a fellow student (in class, lab, residence hall, club)

Academic signs

  • Deterioration in quality/quantity of work
  • A negative change in classroom or research performance (example – drop in grades)
  • Missed assignments or exams
  • Repeated absences from class or from research lab
  • Disorganized or erratic performance
  • Decline in enthusiasm in class (example –  no longer choosing a seat in the front of the room)
  • Student sends frequent, lengthy, “ranting” or threatening types of emails to professor or teaching assistant.
  • Continual seeking of special provisions (examples – late papers, extensions, postponed exams and projects)

Academic Integrity Violation: While a student’s distress or mental anguish should not serve as an excuse for an academic integrity violation, the existence of an academic integrity violation may certainly signal a high level of personal distress.

Physical signs

  • Falling asleep in class or other inopportune times
  • A dramatic change in energy level (either direction)
  • Worrisome changes in hygiene or personal appearance
  • Significant changes in weight
  • Frequent state of alcohol intoxication (examples – bleary-eyed, hung-over, smelling of alcohol)
  • Noticeable cuts, bruises or burns on student

It’s possible that any one of these signs, in and of itself, may simply mean that an individual is having an “off” day.  Consider consulting with a colleague, supervisor, associate dean or other trusted member of the CSU community to share your observations and discuss options for response.

Please note, any one serious sign (example – a student writes a paper expressing hopelessness and/or thoughts of suicide) or a cluster of smaller signs(examples – emotional outbursts, repeated absence, a noticeable cut on the arm) necessitates an intervention.

How to Respond

When you notice a person in distress, your response can make the difference.

Please consider either:

  • speaking directly with the person  or
  • consulting with another campus resource for referral

Levels of Distress

  • Concern
    Visible distress, crying, irritability, anger, fights/arguments, anxiety, personal loss or traumatic life event, decline in academic performance, social withdrawal, significant alcohol and/or drug use.
  • What to do
    Talk with the person directly, consult/use campus resources or Tell Someone who can follow through and coordinate university services.
  • Urgent Situation
    Expressions of hopelessness, talk of suicide or harm to others, being out of touch with reality.
  • What to do
    Get immediate assistance.
  • Emergency
    Immediate threat of harm to self or others.
  • What to do
    Get immediate assistance.

Resources for Staff and Faculty Support

Working to support a student experiencing any level of distress can be physically and emotionally draining. The CSU Ombuds Offices and Employee Assistance  (970-491-1527) is available to all faculty and staff members for support/de-briefing during or after a challenging situation.

Speak directly with the student, colleague or campus community member.

Consider these suggestions for a direct conversation a student:

  1. Ask the student if you can schedule a one-on-one meeting.
  2. Let someone else in your department or office know about the scheduled meeting so they can be available, if necessary.
  3. Tell the student what you have noticed about their behavior that leads you to be concerned, and that you are worried about them. (“I have noticed that you seem very tired the past two weeks.” “I’ve noticed you’ve missed class three times in the past two weeks.”)
  4. Avoid “why” questions, which may be experienced as judgment.
  5. Ask open-ended questions. (“Tell me a bit about how things are going for you this semester. What’s been difficult? satisfying? . . .”)
  6. Listen to the student’s response. You need not be scared off by an emotional response. Talking about a problem, or labeling a crisis, does not make it worse. It is the first step toward resolving it. Be patient. Don’t give up if the student doesn’t talk easily.
  7. Deal directly with the issues without judgment. Allow the student to tell his or her story. Allow silences if it occurs. Sometimes what follows can be especially productive.
  8. Restate what you have heard, so the student will know you understand.
  9. Ask what he or she believes would help.
  10. Suggest resources and offer hope.
  11. Know your own boundaries and limitations, and if necessary, get help determining a course of action. Say something like, “I know (name) in (department/office) who has helped other students with similar circumstances. I’d like to call him/her right now to get input/advice about this. Will you please stay while I call?”. If no, respect the student’s decision; invite him or her to reconnect with you as needed. If you have lingering concerns, alert another network partner who may have additional thoughts about supporting the student.
    • Encourage the student to utilize available resources.
    • Convey to the student that asking for help is a sign of strength.
    • Ask the student, “Who in your life/community would you be comfortable talking with about this situation?” or “What do you think would help in this situation?”.
    • Suggest a “one time” visit with a CSU Health Network Counseling Services counselor.
The Notice and Respond: Assisting Students in Distress workshops were developed as part of a broad public health approach to help community members understand the potential role they play in maintaining campus mental health. Grounded in the belief that “all learning has an emotional base,” Notice and Respond workshops reveal not only the dynamics of mental health situations, but also the undercurrents of human interaction around mental health situations. Adapted from a curriculum created by Cornell University, Notice and Respond has been specifically tailored to meet the needs of CSU students.

The interactive workshop format is based upon Social Learning Theory and the Pro-social Bystander Intervention Model. It uses a combination of learning modalities for faculty, staff and students to learn how to recognize and respond to a range of mental health issues including suicide. Participants can expect to:

  • engage in self-reflection and dialog
  • overcome fears, judgments and hesitations in order to help others
  • learn about response options they can use in their settings
  • consider campus resources that offer support.

Three different Notice and Respond workshops have been created to reflect the relative relationships gatekeepers play on a college campus:

Students:  Friend 2 Friend

Students are offered the interactive “Friend 2 Friend” session to learn what to look for when a friend/peer is struggling, how to talk about it, and where to find support.  Sessions can be modified for a 50-minute classroom setting up to a 90-minute session depending on the needs of the group.  Using a realistic filmed scenario, facilitated discussion, and a review of campus resources, students are given tools and information to help them take care of themselves and keep their friends safe and healthy. Participants also discuss common concerns that may prevent them from reaching out to others.

Staff Groups

Staff are offered a 60-90 minute 2-hour session that models an effective interaction between a staff member and a distressed student. Participants explore common concerns that may present barriers to taking action, and learn why a proactive response is vitally important. A combination of learning modalities is used, including a realistic filmed scenario, participant discussion, and a review (PowerPoint slides, handouts) of response options and campus resources.

Faculty Departments

Faculty departments are offered a 60-90 minute sessionseminar that models an effective interaction between a faculty member and a distressed student. Participants explore common concerns that may present barriers to taking action, and learn why a proactive response is vitally important. A combination of learning modalities is used, including a realistic filmed scenario, participant discussion, and a review (PowerPoint slides, handouts) of response options and campus resources.

For more information about Notice and Respond: Assisting Students in Distress or to request a presentation, please contact Janelle Patrias, Coordinator Manager of Mental Health Initiatives, via email at janelle.patrias@colostate.edu or by telephone at (970) 491-2618.

Role of Peers

Students talk with each other more (about anything and everything, including distress) than they do with anyone else. Our research data confirm that stress at CSU is real and that it affects students physically, emotionally and academically. Students often notice when a friend or peer is struggling, but may not know whether, or how, or when to initiate a conversation, listen, or offer support.

Understand what’s behind your concern

When you are concerned about someone, it’s helpful to think about what is contributing to your concern:

  • A known circumstance (examples – you learn the person has recently ended a relationship, failed an important exam or lost a family member).
  • General signs of distress you may have noticed, without knowledge of what may be triggering the behavior.
  • Experiences or worries of your own that might be arousing your concern for someone else.
  • Something you anticipate might be upsetting to someone else.

Express your concern

More often than not, saying something directly and from the heart to the person about whom you are concerned is the most important thing you can do.  Practice in your own mind so you can assume a compassionate and non-blaming manner. Avoid giving ultimatums or trying to pressure someone into changing or getting help.

  • Express your feelings using “I” statements.
    For example, you could say to a friend whose alcohol use concerns you, “I’m worried about you because I notice you’re drinking more and not making it to your morning classes anymore.”
  • Let the person know that you care about them and you want to help.
  • Say things like “tell me more about…”
  • Listen with your full attention.
  • Be patient, and don’t jump to conclusions or offer quick solutions.
  • Ask what they think might help.
  • Share resources you are familiar with.

Make a connection

  • Make sure not to take on more than you should.  Help the person connect with appropriate help.
  • CSU has a number of resources to aid students who are struggling, including one who is trying to help.
  • If you get stuck, remember that phone consultation is available 24/7 through CSU’s Mental Health Crisis Intervention line (970) 491-6053.

Other ways to make a difference

  • Take care of yourself. Model balanced living (academics, rest and fun) in your day to day life. Practice regular stress reduction techniques. Others will notice.
  • Develop a personal comfort level discussing stress, mental health and mental illness with others. Check out the mtvU “Half of Us” site where college students, as well as popular musicians, share about their experiences with stress, depression and anxiety.

If you have a concern, talk with a person directly, consult and use campus resources or Tell Someone who can follow through and coordinate university services.

Role of Faculty

Professors, lecturers, instructors, teaching assistants and lab supervisors are all in unique positions to notice and respond to students in distressdue to the inherent, ongoing nature of their relationships with students. Weekly, bi- or tri-weekly classes, sections and labs are places where changes in personality or patterns of behavior can be most easily detected. It is precisely for these reasons that faculty members can be effective “eyes and ears” in our campus community, noticing and responding to students in the early stages of situational and/or other emotional distress.

Faculty members are not expected to take on the role of therapist or counselor. However, as integral members of the campus community and important partners in CSU’s commitment to overall student welfare, faculty members can help notice, approach and/or refer students in distress. There are strong systems in place which make up a comprehensive network of support for a struggling student or for a faculty member seeking consultation or collaboration regarding a struggling student.

If you have a concern, talk with a person directly, consult and use campus resources or Tell Someone who can follow through and coordinate university services.

Strategies used by Current CSU Faculty to Build Connection and Reduce Student Stress

  1. Provide clear expectations from the first day of class. Include information about what the students can expect from the professor/instructor and what the professor/instructor expects from the student.
  2. Build flexibility into the course. For example, if you give four exams during the semester, reassure students that only three will count toward their grade, and they can choose which three.
  3. Establish a formalized mechanism through which students can appeal project/paper deadlines or ask for an exam makeup. For example, rather than setting a make-up exam date and time at the beginning of the semester, provide the make-up exam based on the group of students who have communicated (through the formalized mechanism) that a make-up date is needed.
  4. Maximize flexibility in office hours and consultation. Consider location, time of day/night, TA availability, “virtual meeting places,” use of e-mail, etc.
  5. Use humor to reduce stress. Try adding cartoons into written exams.
  6. Consider un-timed exams. While this is vital for students with some learning disabilities, it can also reduce tension for mainstream students.
  7. Ask students to research and submit exam questions. This not only facilitates class learning and encourages active engagement in the course, but also creates a sense of faculty/student collaboration.
  8. Keep students well-informed of their level of course performance throughout the semester. As the add/drop deadline approaches, it can help decrease students’ stress level to know whether or not they are doing well enough to stay in a course.
  9. Learn student names whenever possible. There are many ways to do this. Consider printing out your attendance list from ARIES Web, which has the capability to correlate student names with their photos. Facial recognition will help to make learning names easier.
  10. Foster community between and among students and faculty within a department: build in group work to decrease individual competition; schedule field trips or outings; provide a home-cooked meal at your place; initiate discussions in the dining halls; highlight activities of students outside the classroom (athletics, performances, volunteerism, articles in news or other media, awards).
  11. Create early warning systems to recognize when a student is in distress. Consider factors such as absenteeism, decline in academic performance, or a gut feeling that something might be “wrong.” Check in with faculty and advising staff to discuss students of concern, share information, and make a plan for checking in with the students to ascertain what supports might be needed to help them get back on track.
  12. Make grading process as transparent as possible. Mean grading seems to increase the sense of competition among students.