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How to Help a Student

If you have clicked on this page, you are probably concerned about someone. Feel free to learn about how to help a student in the page below, or just give us a call anytime at (631) 632-6720 to talk through the situation and get individualized feedback. It is also important to remind you:

If a student may be in immediate danger, contact University Police by dialing 911 from a campus landline, or (631) 632-3333 from a cell phone or off-campus phone.

Evidence suggests that the earlier a distressed student receives professional help, the better their recovery. However, some students do not reach out for help, even when it is clear they need support. Friends, family, faculty and staff often recognize students in distress and play an important role in getting students the help they need.

When to speak to a student

Trust your instincts—even if you are not certain that a student is struggling, talking with them can be an important step in clarifying your concerns.  It is better to be wrong and reach out to a student who does not need help than to ignore a student who is struggling.  Check out Change Direction to learn the signs that someone may need support.

Having the conversation

When possible, talk with the student in a private and calm space.  Choose a time when you are free of pressing responsibilities or distractions. Give the student time to talk about their situation.  Be patient and supportive.  Listen without judgment, assumptions, or interruptions.  Take what they are saying seriously. Listening is a critical component of helping.

During this conversation, or in follow-up conversations, you may realize that a student needs more help than you are able or willing to provide. You may also notice:

  • You have already talked to the student and their problem is not getting better.
  • You find yourself feeling responsible for the student.
  • You feel pressure to solve their problems.
  • You feel you are over-extending yourself in helping the student.
  • You see a pattern repeating itself in your interaction with a student.
  • You feel that the problems a student bring to you are more than you can handle.
  • You feel anxious when the student approaches you.

It is time to refer this student to a professional! CAPS is a great place to start. Share your recommendation with the student in a straightforward manner and emphasize your concern for the student. 

If a student is hesitant to seek help, it can be useful to discuss any reservations or resistance a student might have to your referral. Are they concerned about stigma? Do they hold stereotypes about counseling? Have they had a previously negative counseling experience? Do they know anyone who has been helped by counseling? A student might not know that CAPS services are confidential and free, and that many students find even a few sessions very helpful. Open discussion may provide some relief (especially if a student fears being judged by you) and may address some of the student’s reluctance. It may also take some time for a student to agree to seek help. That's okay. Unless you are concerned for their safety, you can allow a student to decide when they are ready.

Concerns about Safety

Don't keep secrets when you are concerned about safety.

If you are concerned about the safety of a student and/or others, referring a student to CAPS may not be enough. The following table gives you suggestions for how to respond when you are concerned about a student. You can also call CAPS to consult on a specific situation.


Questions? Call Us!