1. Supporting Students in Distress
    1. Recognize
    2. Respond
    3. Refer
  2. How to Refer a Student in Distress
    1. Stressed
    2. Distressed
    3. Emergency

As members of the Carleton University community, we all have concern for the well being of our students. This guide outlines how to recognize when a student is in distress and how to respond effectively to a student who approaches you looking for help.

Supporting Students in Distress


You may be the first person to recognize that someone is in distress or to notice a change in typical behaviour. Some of these signs may include:

– Increased absence or sudden drop in grades

– Lack of participation, loss of interest

– Isolation from friends or classmates

– Missed or incomplete assignments

– Repeated requests for accommodations

– Excessive fatigue, difficulty with focus

– Disruptive or unusual behaviour

– Irritability or emotional outbursts

– Appetite or weigh fluctuations

– Lack of personal hygiene

– Illogical or confused thinking or writing

– Increased use of substances


Talk with the student. Once you have recognized there may be a problem, or if others have expressed significant concern about this student, it is important to respond and to let the student know you are concerned.


Express concern and be specific about the behaviour that concerns you.

“I’ve noticed you have been absent from class lately and I am concerned”

“How are things going?”


Give your full attention and keep an open mind.

“Tell me more about that.”

“So, what you’re saying is…”


Affirm student’s thoughts, feelings and experience in a sensitive and compassionate manner.

“It sounds like you are feeling lonely on such a big campus.”

“I’m sorry you’re going through this.”


Encourage the student to get help and make a referral to one of the services on campus. Ask if they are already connected to support on or off campus.

“Is this something you would like help with?”

“I can recommend a few resources that are available to you.”

You are encourage to follow up with the student to see if they have connected with support. Students will need time to resolve issues. If warning signs persist or you would like to identify your concerns you may submit a Care Report.

If a student says ‘no’ to a referral:

A student may say no to a referral or may not follow up with resources. We must respect their decision, except in the case of emergencies. Remind them that your door is always open if they reconsider or need additional help.

How to Refer a Student in Distress


Student is showing some signs of distress and can identify a few coping strategies.


Student’s coping strategies are no longer effective or needs are complex. No imminent risk of harm to self or others.


Student is actively planning suicide or is at risk of immediate harm to self or others.

Can I share information with other members of Carleton?

You are allowed to share information with other Carleton employees on a “need to know basis”. This means that you can contact another department and may disclose only the details necessary to ensure a student’s safety and to help them access support.