Advising Students in Distress

The Health and Wellness Center has developed a program to assist faculty, staff, and others in campus community that have concerns about the well-being of students. This page will provide you with guidance on how to respond and advise distressed or distressing students.

Distressed Student: A student who is troubled confused, very sad, highly anxious, irritable, lacks in motivation and/or concentration, demonstrative bizarre behavior or thinking about suicide.

Distressing Student: A student whose conduct is disruptive or dangerous, verbal or physical threats, active threats of suicide and resisting assistance.

Consider the following scenarios:

  • A student stands up in class and shouts at the top of his lungs about being mistreated, misunderstood and that he will show everyone what the “truth” is.
  • A student arrives late to class, appears intoxicated, and stumbles on his way to his seat. He then sleeps through class.
  • A student is reported by roommates to be cutting her arms every night at 2 a.m., but she consistently wears long sleeves during the day to hide the cuts.
  • A student persistently mumbles to friends and faculty about going to the nearby lake. He says he goes there regularly to consider “what it would be like” but he won’t be more specific than that.
  • A student consistently confides in you about difficulties related to family, friends or finances.

Students in distress can greatly benefit from professional help. When professionals whose job it is to work with students in such ways are not in the immediate environment, it is useful to be aware of avenues for assistance.


What are the warning signs of a distressed student?
1. Poor performance and preparation markedly inconsistent with previous work.
2. Excessive absence and tardiness.
3. Chronic indecisiveness or procrastination.
4. Repeated requests for special instruction.
5. Increased concern about grades despite satisfactory performance.
6. Sleeping in class.
7. Noticeable change in demeanor and appearance.

What are the warning signs of a distressing student?
1. Highly disruptive (e.g. hostility, aggression, violence).
2. Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech; unconnected, disjointed, or rambling thoughts.
3. Loss of contact with reality (seeing or hearing things which others cannot see or hear; beliefs or actions greatly at odds with reality or probability).
4. Inappropriate communications (including threatening letters, e-mail messages, harassment).
5. Overly suicidal thoughts (including referring to suicide as a current option or in a written assignment).
6. Threats to harm others.
7. Stalking behaviors.

How should I respond when a student is disrupting my class?
Faculty members have broad authority to manage their classrooms and establish reasonable guidelines for class discussion that ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate in an orderly manner. If you believe a student’s behavior is inappropriate, consider a general word of caution rather than singling a student out or embarrassing the student.

If the behavior in question is irritating, but not disruptive, try speaking with the student after class. Most students are unaware of distracting habits or mannerisms, and have no intent to be offensive or disruptive. There may be rare circumstances where it is necessary to speak to a student during class about his or her behavior. Correct the student in a manner, indicating that further discussion can occur after class.

If a student’s behavior reaches to the point that it interferes with your ability to conduct the class or the ability of other students to benefit from the class, the student should be asked to leave the room for the remainder of the class period. The student should be provided with a reason for this action and an opportunity to discuss this matter with you as soon as is practical.


How To Make a Referral
While many students go to Counseling Services or to the Office of the Dean of Students on their own, your involvement with students increases the likelihood you will identify signs or behaviors of distress and/or disruption in a student. What can you do?

  • Stay calm.
  • Provide a quiet and private place.
  • Speak to the student in a clear, straightforward manner.
  • Focus on behaviors observed.
  • Acknowledge the student’s feelings.
  • Calmly but firmly outline your limits to help.
  • Recommend campus resources to your student.
  • Determine the student’s willingness to go obtain assistance.
  • Reassure the student that it is an act of strength to ask for help.
  • Dispute the myth that only “weak or crazy” people go for counseling or use others for help.
  • Offer to make the initial contact with the campus resources.

The Early Action Student Support Team (EASST) is charged with reaching out, as early as possible, to students who are facing challenges in College life. Faculty and Staff can make an EASST referral via my.lakeForest. Log into my.lakeforest and find the Early Alert Messages button on the left side bar under Quick Links.

Behavioral Evaluation And Response (BEAR) Team
This team, consisting of college professionals from the Health and Wellness Center, the Office of the Dean of Students, Residence Life and Public Safety, review and intervene in cases where students have been harmful/disruptive to themselves and/or to the college community. This team reaches out to students to provide supportive resources, as necessary, in an attempt to have them manage their problematic behavior or assist them in the resolution of symptoms contributing to distress.


  • During the academic year: Daily Crisis appointment at 2 p.m. for urgent/emergent situations. During the summer: Call 847-735-5240 to schedule a consult. 
  • Mental Health Support Line available 24/7. Call 847-735-5300.

Campus Resources

Possible threat to self or others?

Public Safety: 847-735-5555
Dean of Students: 847-735-5200
Health and Wellness: 847-735-5240

No threat to self or others?

Dean of Students: 847-735-5200
Health and Wellness: 847-735-5240

Community Resources

24/7 Mental Health Support Line


NorthShore University HealthSystem

847-432-8000 (Main)
847-535-3751 (Emergency)

Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital

847-234-5600 (Main)
847-535-6150 (Emergency)

Zachariah Center for Sexual Abuse

847-244-1187 (Main Office)
847-872-7799 (Support Line)

A Safe Place

(24-hour Help Hotline)

National Suicide Hotline

800-273-TALK (8255)
Lake County Crisis Line