Assisting Students in Distress


CSU faculty and staff are in a unique position to demonstrate compassion for CSU students in distress.

Both undergraduate and graduate students may feel alone, isolated, and even hopeless when faced with academic and life callings. These feelings can easily disrupt academic performance and may lead to difficulties coping and other serious consequences.

You may be the first person to SEE SOMETHING distressing in your students since you have frequent and prolonged contact with them. The California State University, in collaboration with the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), requests that you act with compassion when assisting students.


Students exhibiting troubling behaviors in your presence are likely having difficulties in various settings including the classroom, with roommates, with family, and even social settings.

Trust your instincts and SAY SOMETHING if a student leaves you feeling worried, alarmed, or threatened!


Sometimes students cannot or will not turn to family or friends. DO SOMETHING! Your expression of concern may be a critical factor in saving a student’s academic career or even their life.

The purpose of this folder is to help you recognize symptoms of student distress and identify appropriate referrals to campus resources.


Academic Indicators

  • Sudden decline in quality of work and grades
  • Repeated absences
  • Disturbing content in writing or presentations (e.g., violence, death)
  • You find yourself doing more personal rather than academic counseling during office hours
  • Continuous classroom disruptions

Safety Risk Indicators

  • Unprovoked anger or hostility
  • Making implied or direct threats to harm self or others
  • Academic assignments dominated by themes of extreme hopelessness, rage, worthlessness, isolation, despair, acting out, suicidal ideations/violent behaviors

Psychological Indicators

  • Self-disclosure of personal distress that could include family problems, financial difficulties, depression, grief, or thoughts of suicide
  • Excessive tearfulness, panic reactions, irritability or unusual apathy
  • Verbal abuse (e.g., taunting, badgering, intimidation)
  • Expressions of concern about the student by his/her peers

Physical Indicators

  • Marked changes in physical appearance including deterioration in grooming, hygiene, or weight loss/gain
  • Excessive fatigue/sleep disturbance
  • Intoxication, hangovers, or smelling of alcohol
  • Disoriented or "out of it"