Student in distress

Supporting Students in Distress

The following guide can be used to help you recognize a student in distress. Responding with care and concern is a critical factor in supporting a healthy campus community.


1. Ask

Be direct and caring

  • Trust your instincts
  • It’s okay to ask and express concern
  • Be specific about the behaviour that worries you

“I’ve noticed you seem distracted and upset lately and I’m concerned about you.”

“I noticed you have missed a few assignments lately which is not like you. I wanted to check in to see how you are doing.”


2. Support

Actively listen

  • Listen with an open mind
  • Ask questions to help understand the situation
  • Acknowledge thoughts and feelings
  • Offer hope and help

“It sounds like you’re feeling overwhelmed, can I connect you with a resource for help?”

“It sounds like a very stressful time. Tell me more about what is happening for you.”


3. Refer

Validate and empathize

  • Provide information about resources
  • Encourage help-seeking
  • Offer to help the student connect with resources

“If you’d like, we can call and book the appointment while you’re here with me.”

“Is there anything you have tried to help with this so far? What might be most helpful right now, and how can I support?"


4. Follow-up

Use collaborative problem solving

  • Respect the decision to accept or refuse help (except in emergency situations)
  • Practice self-care care. Seek personal support as needed.  Employee and family assistance is available 24/7 through TELUS Health.

“I respect your decision. I hope you will keep these options in mind. My door is always open.”

“I am glad you will have a chance to connect with the resource we talked about. Feel free to reach out if you need anything else.”

Possible indicators of distress

  • Significant changes in mood, behaviour, or appearance
  • Appears agitated, sad, worried, or anxious
  • Expresses hopelessness or references suicide or self-harm
  • Mental health appears to be significantly deteriorating
  • Current or past experience of violence or trauma

Immediately report the following situations

  • Violent or destructive behaviour
  • Concern for safety related to suicidal thoughts or behaviours
  • Concerning drug or alcohol poisoning
  • Aggressive or threatening behaviour with high risk of harm

Campus Security: 403.220.5333
Student at Risk Team: 403.220.4923
Calgary Emergency Services: 911
Student Wellness Services: 403.210.9355

How to make a good referral

  • Point out that help is available and seeking help is a sign of strength
  • Consult when needed. The team at Student Wellness Services provide confidential supports and can help connect students with the most appropriate resources
  • Provide information about 24 hour support options



  • Violent or threatening behaviour
  • Risk of harm to self or others

Campus Security & Safewalk

Call Campus Security for 24/7 support and immediate response.

Student at Risk (SAR) Team

Submit a concern to the SAR team. The team is available to consult, outreach and respond to nonurgent concerns.

Student Conduct Office

Confidential advice and referrals, resolve alleged student non-academic misconduct, and facilitate training on navigating and resolving various forms of conflict.


If you become concerned that a student may be at risk of suicide, please refer to the Suicide Intervention Guide.

*If emergency response is required, call 911 and then Campus Security.


  • Mental or physical health concerns
  • Emotional distress

Student Wellness Services

Hours (9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Monday - Friday)

Refer students for support with mental or physical health concerns, or contact to request supportive outreach to student.

After Hours Mental Health Support

Call to access after-hours phone support, available 24/7.

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Support

Confidential support and care for any university community member impacted by sexual and gender-based violence, whether it occurred on- or off-campus.

After Hours Physical Health Support

Call to access Alberta Health Services 24/7 health advice.


  • Drop in GPA or performance
  • Difficulty managing academic tasks

Thrive Priority Support Network

Complete a concern form for students to receive specialized outreach from an academic support specialist.

Student Success Centre

Encourage students to visit the website or the centre for general advising, learning, writing support and online resources for students.

Faculty Advising

Students can access faculty-specific advising from their faculty’s program advisors.

Helping skills and suicide intervention training

UCalgary offers a number of free, evidence based suicide intervention training programs open to all UCalgary students, faculty, and staff. We encourage all campus members to receive training to learn life-saving skills and contribute to a caring, supportive campus community.

Learn to recognize and and review risk of suicide, and how to intervene.

Learn to recognize and support someone who may have thoughts of suicide.

Learn the skills needed to help others experiencing a problem
or in distress.

Learn about the harm reduction approach to substance use.

Learn about mental health, stigma reduction and resilience.

LivingWorks Start is a powerful online training program that teaches life-saving skills to recognize and prevent suicide.

Staff and faculty can learn about mental health, stigma reduction and resilience.

Helper support

As a helper, it is also extremely important that you get the a supervisor or helping professional, practicing self-care, or accessing resources.

For UCalgary employees, visit Staff Wellness to get the proper support you need.