Learning how to help a student in distress.

Offering support and care when it’s needed most.

When a student need helps for a mental health or substance abuse problem, it’s often first noticed by a concerned member of the RISD community. Experienced CAPS professionals are available for confidential support and assistance.

Faculty and staff are in good positions to recognize students who are in distress. Counseling Services’ staff want to support your efforts by providing practical information about how to identify distressed students and how to make referrals to Counseling Services or other crisis support services.

Recognizing Students in Distress

  • Marked changes in academic performance or behavior
  • Uncharacteristically poor performance and preparation
  • Excessive absences or tardiness
  • Repeated requests for special consideration especially when this represents a change from previous functioning
  • Disruptive classroom behavior
  • Intense emotion or inappropriate responses

Behavioral or Interpersonal Problems

  • Asking instructor for help with personal problems
  • Complaints from other students
  • Hyperactivity or very rapid speech
  • Irritability or angry outbursts
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Disjointed thoughts

References to Suicide, Homicide or Death

  • Expressed thoughts of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Overt references to suicide
  • Isolation from friends or family

What Can You Do?

TALK to the student in private when both of you have the time and are not rushed or preoccupied. Privacy will help minimize embarrassment and defensiveness.

LISTEN in a sensitive, nonthreatening way. Discuss your observations in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms. For example, “I’ve noticed you’ve been absent from class lately and I’m concerned.”

COMMUNICATE understanding by repeating back the essence of what the student has told you. Try to include both content and feelings (“It sounds like you’re not accustomed to such a big campus and you’re feeling left out of things.”) Let the student talk.

GIVE HOPE, assure the student that help is available. Help the student identify options for action and explore the possible consequences.

MAINTAIN clear and consistent boundaries and expectations. Be frank with the student about the limits of your ability to help them

REFER when:

  • the problem is more serious than you feel comfortable handling.
  • you have helped as much as you can and further assistance is needed.

Non-Crisis Referrals

  • Encourage students to contact Counseling Services directly to schedule an intake appointment by calling 401-454-6637 or going to the counseling office at 72 Pine Street, 5th floor.
  • Offer to let the student call from your office or offer to walk over with the student if you believe they need to extra support.
  • You may fill out a CARE report for non-emergencies.  CARE is operated through the office of Student Affairs.  The primary focus of the team is to take a proactive approach in identifying students who are struggling and provide early intervention, resources, and referrals both on and off campus.

Crisis Referrals

  • If a student is in crisis during business hours (Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.) call 401-454-6637.
  • If the crisis occurs outside of business hours, call Public Safety 401-454-6666 and ask them to have the counselor on-call get back to you.
  • If the student or another person is in imminent danger, or when you believe a student is out of control, call 911 or Public Safety at 401-454-6666.

It is often a good idea to follow-up with students after the referral was made. Be aware that Counseling Services works within ethical limits of confidentiality, and we cannot give information about the student or specifics about the situation without written permission.

Hours & Appointments

8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Monday – Friday
Please call during business hours to schedule an appointment.

Extended Hours

8:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.

During fall and spring semesters.


72 Pine Street, 2nd floor



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Choose the area you want to work on. If you want to change or eliminate a negative thought pattern, like a phobia, or lack of self-esteem.

Choose the area you want to work on. If you want to change or eliminate a negative thought pattern, like a phobia, or lack of self-esteem.

Choose the area you want to work on. If you want to change or eliminate a negative thought pattern, like a phobia, or lack of self-esteem.

Stay Informed

Learn facts about mental health awareness, prevention and treatment, and warning signs from our experts.