Supporting Student Mental Health: Reference Guide

You will encounter students who are experiencing difficulties and/or may need extra support. There are several reasons why students may be struggling, including physical or mental health issues, academic pressures, increased stress, financial concerns, societal issues, and difficulty with interpersonal relationships. You have a critical role in supporting our students.

Remember U.I.S.

  1. U- Understand the signs of a student who is struggling.  
  2. I- Inquire about the student’s well-being.
  3. S- Support. Connect the student with the appropriate services.

Understand the signs of a struggling student

Most often students will display signs that they are struggling. Being aware of these signs, as well as how to respond, allows you to play a critical role in getting the students the help they need in a timely manner. Below is a list of indicators that may signal that a student needs support. This list is not exhaustive. You are looking for significant changes in a student’s behavior even if those behaviors are not on this list. Trust yourself and err on the side of caution.

Academic Indicators

  • Missed, late, or incomplete assignments     
  • Inconsistent or deteriorating quality of work
  • Significant absences or tardiness
  • Disorganized work and/or presentation of ideas
  • Repeated requests of extensions
  • Written or verbal expression of dark, violent, or morbid thoughts
  • Disproportionate emotional response to coursework and/or in response to grades

Behavioral Indicators

  • Exhibits high levels of emotions- angry outbursts, crying, tearfulness
  • Demanding or dependent behavior
  • Nonsensical, incoherent speech*
  • Expression of suicidal thoughts, worthlessness, hopelessness, despair 
  • Expression of harm to others*                                      

Physical Indicators

  • Deteriorating or poor hygiene, disheveled appearance, soiled clothes
  • Comes to class smelling of alcohol or other drugs
  • Noticeably slowed or rapid speech
  • Appears consistently fatigued and/or falling asleep in class
  • Significant changes in weight
  • Appears confused, disoriented, or out of touch of reality
  • Aggressive and/or Intimidating behaviors*
  • Unusually animated or withdrawn
  • Inability to regulate mood/behavior. Unpredictable and/or rapid shifts in mood, and impulsivity
  • Indications of planning to die by suicide, harm to self or others*                                                                                   

*Call Campus Police          

Inquire about the student's well-being

One of the most impactful steps is having a conversation with the student. Sometimes your initial expression of concern is all that is needed to help a student seek support. Below are some guidelines when responding to a student of concern.

  • Main objective is to express concern and provide the student with appropriate resources.
  • Stay calm and don’t leave the student alone until connected to supports.
  • Meet privately with the student. Be direct. Identify the behaviors and express your concerns.
  • Listen without judgment. Allow the student time and space in the conversation to share their thoughts.
  • Always take an individual’s culture into account.
  • Be clear when asking about thoughts of harm to self or others. “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Reassure the individual that they are not alone and connect them to resources.
  • Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. You may have reporting requirements.  
  • Seek out consultation and supervision as needed.

Support- Refer for services

Taking a proactive approach to student well-being can help students break down stigma and increase access to services. Some examples of proactive steps would be to promote well-being and self-care, normalize mental health struggles, remind students of resources, and create a growth mindset. Even with best practices, students will still struggle.

Many times, after the initial referral, on-going support is needed. And the student of concern form provides critical information to create a support plan for the student.