Counseling and Disability Services

Emergency Crisis Counseling: Helping Students in Distress

What can you do?

Assess the level of concern.

Students experiencing mild to moderate distress may show these signs:

  • Decline in grades
  • Decline in attendance
  • Unusual or changed pattern of interaction or behavior
  • Depressed or lethargic mood; very rapid speech; swollen red eyes; falling asleep in class
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional response
  • Repeated requests for special consideration such as deadline extensions
  • Shows signs of injury to self
  • Increased drug or alcohol use

Students experiencing acute or severe distress may show these signs:

  • Highly disruptive behavior
  • Inability to communicate clearly (rambling garbled thoughts)
  • Loss of contact with reality
  • Stalking behaviors
  • Hostile communications (threats, etc.)
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or plans
  • Threats to harm others
  • Extreme suspiciousness/paranoia

Guidelines for talking with a student with any level of distress:

  • Accept and respect what is said
  • Avoid easy answers, such as, "Everything will be alright"
  • Share your concerns with your chair or dean
  • Do not swear secrecy or offer confidentiality to the person
  • Respect the student's value system, even if you don't agree
  • Seek appropriate resources when necessary i.e: Counseling, Tutoring, Women Resource Center

If you are worried about the student's safety; but it is not an emergency situation (mild to moderate distress):

  • When called for, let the person know you are worried about their safety and describe the behavior or situation that is worrisome to you
  • If you are concerned the student may be feeling hopeless and thinking about ending their life, ask if she/he is contemplating suicide. It is important to remember that talking about suicide is a cry for help and is not to be ignored. Seek help from one of the resources listed.
  • Offer to be a resource until they can obtain professional counseling
  • After the student leaves your office, make some notes documenting your interactions
  • Consult with others regarding your experience

How to handle an emergency situation (acute or severe distress):

  • Offer to walk the student to the Counseling office if appropriate
  • Remain calm and know whom to call for help, if necessary. Find someone to stay with the student while calls to appropriate resources are made
  • Remember that it is NOT your responsibility to provide the professional help needed for a severely troubled/disruptive student. You need only to make the necessary call and request assistance
  • When a student expresses a direct threat to themselves or others, or act in a bizarre, highly irrational or disruptive way, call the Department of Public Safety, 313-593-5333
  • For any Emergency Crisis that occurs after office hours, please contact Campus Safety 24-Hour Dispatch at (313) 593-5333.

If Emergency Psychiatric Care and/or emergency referrals for medication is needed students can call the following local community mental health center or crisis intervention service:


Psychiatric Intervention Center (P.I.C.)
33101 Annapolis
Wayne, MI 48181

Neighborhood Service Organization (NSO)
(313)224-7000 or
1-800-241-4949 (Toll Free)
24 hours a day, 7 days a week

UM-Dearborn students who have the University's student health insurance policy, Chickering Plan, can go to for a list of psychiatrists for medication.

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