Responding to Distress

Recognize Signs of Distress

Look for groupings, frequency, and severity of behaviors, not just isolated symptoms.

A simple blocky red graphic icon of a magnifying glass


  • Sudden decline in academic performance
  • Frequently missing classes or assignments
  • Disturbing content in writing or presentations
  • Monopolizing class discussion
  • Disrupting class (e.g., yelling or cursing)
  • Confrontations with peers or instructor
  • Repeated requests for special consideration (e.g., deadline extensions, changes in requirements, grade changes)


  • Increased illness
  • Marked changes in physical appearance (e.g., poor hygiene, sudden weight gain/loss)
  • Uncharacteristic behavior indicating loss of contact with reality
  • Visibly intoxicated or smelling of alcohol or cannabis
  • Rapid speech or excessively anxious or erratic behavior
  • Excessive fatigue or sleeping in class
  • Observable signs of injury (e.g., facial bruising or cuts)


  • Self-disclosure of family problems, financial difficulties, or other personal distress
  • Unusual or disproportionate emotional response to situations
  • Excessive tearfulness
  • Panic reactions
  • Uncharacteristically troubled, confused, anxious, irritable, sad, hopeless
  • Peers expressing concern for student

Safety Risk

  • Verbal, written, or implied intent to harm self or others
  • Unprovoked anger, hostility, or physical violence (e.g., shoving, grabbing, assaulting, use of weapon)
  • Academic assignments dominated by themes of extreme hopelessness, helplessness, isolation, rage, despair, violence, self-injury
  • Stalking or harassing
  • Reckless, disorderly, or dangerous conduct
  • Making threats or disturbing comments via email, text, phone calls

Respond Appropriately

A simple solid red graphic icon representing a person with a chat bubble

Is the student an imminent danger to self or others? Does the student need immediate assistance? Use this decision tree to determine the most appropriate response to a student in distress.


No concern for the student's immediate safety. However, the student is having serious academic and/or personal issues. I believe they could benefit from additional support and resources. Refer the student to the resources at the bottom of this page.

Not Sure

Safety is not an immediate concern. However, the student is disruptive to the living- learning environment, exhibiting several indicators of distress. I need more guidance. Call the Office of Student Life at 360-650-3706. For additional mental health consultation, call the Counseling Center at 360-650-3164.

Yes - Imminent Danger

Safety is an immediate concern. The student is imminently dangerous and actively threatening harm to self or others. Call 911 or University Police at 360-650-3911 without hesitation. 

Refer to Resources

Help students in distress access Western's support network with these referral tips and resources.

A simple block-like red graphic icon representing a written list or document with a check mark on it.

Referral Tips

  • Use Active Listening. Make eye contact and give your full attention. Restate what the student says to make sure you understand what is causing their distress.
  • Ask Direct Questions. Don’t be afraid to directly ask the student if they are having thoughts of harming themselves or others. By asking, you are NOT instilling the thought.
  • Give Concrete Help. If comfortable doing so, offer to help them call a campus resource such as the Counseling Center or to walk with them to the resource office.
  • Inform Your Supervisor. Make sure to alert your supervisor/chair about your interaction. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) permits communication about a student of concern in connection with a health and safety emergency.
  • Be Aware of Mandatory Reporting Requirements. If a student discloses an incident of sexual or gender-based harassment or assault, it must promptly be reported to Western’s Title IX Coordinator at 360-650-3307.


Please visit our Related Services page for a list of additional university resources.

University Police

Emergencies 911 or (360) 650-3911
Non-emergencies: (360) 650-3555

Counseling Center

(360) 650-3164
Select option 1 for help after hours

Office of Student Life

Mon-Fri 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. 
(360) 650-3706

LGBTQ+ Western

Mon-Fri 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. 
(360) 650-7500

Residence Life

Mon-Fri 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. 
(360) 650-2960