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Respond to a student in distress

Students in distress

Professors/instructors and academic administrative staff are often the first to notice a student in distress. The student’s behaviour doesn’t signal an immediate threat to themselves or others, but it is worrisome.

How to identify a student in distress

In general, the student is experiencing challenging life circumstances usually involving personal, academic and/or financial issues. Specific indicators include:


  • Frequent absences

  • Declining academic performance; missed assignments and deadlines

  • Written or creative work with disturbing themes or references


  • Comments or statements indicating distress or self-harm

  • Disruptive behaviour, outbursts or aggressive comments

  • Appearing to be withdrawn, depress or anxious


  • Marked changes in appearance or hygiene

  • Substance abuse concerns

  • Excessive fatigue and frequent illness


Making a referral to our office

  1. Listen to the student's concerns.
  2. Let them know that they can receive support through our office.
  3. With their consent, send an email to In your email include:

    • Their name and student ID;
    • Program and year of study;
    • Their contact information and their preferred method of contact - phone, email or text; and
    • Provide some background information about the student’s situation.
  4. Our office will follow-up with them as soon as possible to set-up an appointment; typically within 24-48 hours not including weekends.