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.

View the Supporting Students in Distress (PDF, 789 KB) guide.

Supporting Students in Distress


You may be the first person to recognize that someone is in distress or to notice a change in typical behavior.

  • Increased absences 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 outburst
  • Appetite or weight fluctuations
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Illogical or confused thinking or writing
  • Increased use of substances


Check in. 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 students’ 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 encouraged 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. carleton.ca/studentaffairs/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

Depending on the specific behaviours that you have noticed, as well as the responses the student provides, there are a few paths that you may follow when referring a student. The following information can help guide you to the appropriate resource and support available on campus.


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

Signs may include: Academic, financial, health or personal problems, homesickness, heightened emotions or lack of support.

What to do:

Connect student to appropriate resources (see list on reverse).

Offer support and encouragement.

To follow up:

If appropriate, to see if the student has accessed support. Remind the student that your door is always open.


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

Signs may include: significant changes in behavior or appearance, recent trauma, deteriorating mental health, serious emotional difficulties, isolated/withdrawn or substance use.

What to do:

Contact the following to facilitate an appointment or for consultation:

Manager of Student Care and Support 613-520-2600, x1312

Health and Counselling Services 613-520-6674

Sexual Assault Support Services 613-520-5622

University Safety 613-520-2600, x3612

To follow up:

Submit a Care Report

Keep your Chair or Departmental Supervisor informed.


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

Signs may include: direct or indirect reference to suicide, threatening, violent or destructive behaviour, student is incoherent or out of touch with reality or the situation feels unsafe.

What to do:

Immediate action is required.

On-campus: Dial University Safety at 4444

Off-campus: Dial 911 and notify University Safety.

If uncertain, you can call the Crisis Line at 613-722-6914.

To follow up:

Submit a Care Report

Keep your Chair or Departmental Supervisor informed.

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 can disclose only the details necessary to ensure a student’s safety and to help them access support.