Referring Students in Distress

University students often encounter a great deal of stress during the course of their academic experience. While some students cope with the stress that these years bring on their own, an increasing number of students find that the pressures of life are unmanageable or unbearable. Thus, it may be helpful for some students to be connected with psychological resources to improve mental health and facilitate growth. As faculty members, teaching assistants, or staff, you may encounter students who are distressed in your offices or your classrooms. In these moments, it is important to be informed of the role you can play in identifying and referring students who are distressed.

*During operations restrictions due to COVID-19, students in distress can call the Counseling Center for a phone consultation, M-F 9am-4pm. A clinician will call them back as soon as possible.*

Signs/Symptoms of a Student in Distress

Guidelines for Interacting with a Student in Distress

How to Refer a Student in Distress to the Counseling Center

Services Offered at the Counseling Center

Additional Resources

For more information, please reference the Helping Students in Distress Folder and Response Guide for Difficult Student Situations produced by the Dean of Students Office available under the Faculty and Staff tab.

Signs/Symptoms of a Student in Distress

  • Excessive procrastination and very poorly prepared work, especially if this is inconsistent with previous work.
  • Infrequent class attendance with little or no work completed.
  • Dependency, e.g., the student who hangs around you or makes excessive appointments to see you during office hours.
  • Listlessness, lack of energy, or frequently falling asleep in class.
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene.
  • Repeated requests for special consideration, e.g., deadline extensions.
  • Impaired speech or garbled, disjointed thoughts.
  • Homicidal threats.
  • Behavior which regularly interferes with the decorum or effective management of your class.
  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • High levels of irritability, including unruly, aggressive, violent, or abrasive behavior.
  • Inability to make decisions, despite repeated attempts to clarify and to encourage.
  • Dramatic weight loss or weight gain.
  • Bizarre or strange behavior which is obviously inappropriate to the situation, e.g., talking to "invisible" people.
  • Normal emotions that are displayed to an extreme degree of for a prolonged period of time, e.g., fearfulness, tearfulness, nervousness, etc.

Guidelines for Interacting with a Student in Distress

  • Talk to the student in private.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Show concern and interest.
  • Reflect and paraphrase what the student has told you.
  • Avoid criticizing or sounding judgmental.
  • Consider the Counseling Center as a resource and discuss the referral with the student.
  • If the student resists help and you are worried, contact the Counseling Center to discuss your concerns.
  • Involve yourself only as far as you want to go. Extending yourself can be a gratifying experience when kept within realistic limits.

How to Refer a Student in Distress to the Counseling Center

*During operations restrictions due to COVID-19, students in distress can call the Counseling Center for a phone consultation, M-F 9am-4pm. A clinician will call them back as soon as possible.*

  1. Suggest that the student call or walk in for an urgent consultation (M-F 8:30am-4pm). Give the student the Counseling Center's telephone number and location.
  2. If you wish to assist the student directly, call the receptionist at the Counseling Center while the student is in your office and hand them the phone. We can follow up with a student we have spoken to, should they decide not to walk in. You can write down relevant information for the student (counselor they will likely see and location).
  3. If the situation is an emergency (imminent danger to self or others), call ULPD or 911. In a crisis situation, follow #2 above, and state that "the student is in crisis and needs to be seen immediately." If the Counseling Center is closed, please refer to the information on our Emergencies page.
  4. Sometimes it is helpful for you to escort the student over to the Counseling Center, or call us to let us know you are encouraging a student to come to our office.
  5. Please note that due to confidentiality constraints, we are unable to "follow up" with you about whether a student has been seen or how they are doing, without that student's written consent.
  6. If you are concerned about a student but are uncertain about the appropriateness of a referral or what to say, feel free to call the Counseling Center at 852-6585 for a consultation. Thank you for helping support our students and their success!


Counseling Center
Student Activities Center
2100 South Floyd Street, W204
Louisville, Kentucky 40208

Office Hours

Services will be provided in-person and via telehealth.

Mon -Fri: 9am - 5pm

Sat & Sun: closed

After hours or emergency services

Urgent Consultations

Mon-Fri 9am-4pm Please call or walk in to set up a consultation.

Operations may temporarily shift based on University COVID-19 protocols.

Closed on University holidays and closings.

We observe all delayed starts and early closings set by the University. This includes cancellation of telehealth appointments when the University is closed.


(502) 852-6585


(502) 852-0291

Inclusion Statement

Note that email cannot be used to make appointments.

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