Faculty & Staff

Are you concerned about a student? Faculty and staff are often in a unique position to recognize when a student is experiencing problems. Your ability to recognize signs of serious distress and your willingness to acknowledge your concerns directly, play a significant role in assisting students in resolving problems that can negatively impact their academic success. Johns Hopkins University offers robust services for students across all dimensions of their well-being and updated guidance can be found online for PDF Document: Recognizing and Assisting Students in Distress. With faculty assistance, we can safely connect students to resources resulting in personal safety and development, while also supporting their success toward degree completion.

The PDF Document: Recognizing and Assisting Students in Distress guide is a comprehensive tool to help you support and refer students in times of need. Please carefully review each page, noting an emphasis on bringing in mental health and public safety resources when appropriate. We encourage you to reach out to the listed campus resources if you have questions or need to consult. The student well-being website also continues to be a central portal to student health and well-being resources across all divisions and campuses.

In addition, the below information may be helpful in understanding how levels of distress can be described along a continuum. How you go about helping a student will depend on several factors: their level of distress, the nature of your relationship, the type of setting you are in, and your comfort level. The following information describes behaviors to look for and suggestions on how to help.

Mild Distress

Students experiencing mild distress typically exhibit behaviors that are not disruptive to others, but suggest that something may be wrong and assistance is needed. Typically these behaviors represent a change in what is typical for the student.

  • Serious grade problems
  • Unaccountable change from good to poor performance.
  • Infrequent attendance or excessive absences
  • Unusual or marked changes in class participation or pattern of interaction
  • Marked change in mood, speech or energy level
  • Marked change in hygiene or physical appearance

How you can help

  • Arrange to talk to the student in private at a mutually convenient time.
  • Express your concerns in a non-judgmental manner.
  • Listen to the student and repeat a summary of what the student is saying.
  • Clarify the costs and benefits of each option for handling the problem from the student’s point of view.
  • Respect the student’s value system.
  • Ask if the student is considering suicide.
  • Make appropriate referrals as necessary (see list below).
  • Make sure the students understands what action is necessary.
  • Arrange to check back with them to see how things are going.

Moderate Distress

Students experiencing moderate levels of distress typically exhibit behaviors that strongly suggest that something is wrong. The student may however be reluctant or unable to acknowledge a need for help.

  • Repeated requests for special consideration
  • New or regularly occurring behaviors which push the limits and may disrupt others
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional responses that are inappropriate to the situation

How you can help

  • Deal directly with the behavior/problem according to classroom protocol.
  • Allow the student to speak freely about issues or circumstances that may be affecting their level of distress. Make a referral to other University resources (see the list below).
  • Consult with the Counseling Center to share your concerns and discuss possible ways to talk with the student.
  • Share your concern with the Office of the Dean of Student Life or the Director of Student Affairs at your school. They may have other concerns about the student and they are often in a position to intervene.

Severe Distress

Students in severe distress exhibit behaviors that signify an obvious crisis that necessitates immediate intervention and referral for professional help.

  • Highly disruptive behavior (hostility, aggression, violence, etc.)
  • Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech, disjointed thoughts)
  • Loss of contact with reality (seeing/hearing things that are not there, beliefs or actions at odds with reality)
  • Suicidal thoughts (“I wish I were dead”)
  • Threats to harm others

How you can help

  • Stay calm and involve other professionals at the University to help (see referral options below). Remember that it is not your responsibility to provide the professional help needed for a severely distressed student. Your role is to know the resources available and to make the referral.
  • Suicidal individuals often give messages suggesting their level of distress (“What’s the point, I would be better off dead”). It is important to take these comments seriously and ask if the person is considering suicide. This does not put the idea of suicide in their head, but helps you accurately assess what is on their mind and get appropriate help. All concerns about suicide require immediate intervention. Contact the JHU Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team (BHCST) at 410-516-WELL (9355) to speak a trained clinician. It is important to never leave a suicidal student alone, so plan to stay with the suicidal student until help arrives.


  • Any behaviors that indicate that the student is in danger of harming themselves or someone else.
  • Overt suicidal thoughts or threats (indications that they have engaged in or are contemplating life threatening behavior)
  • Verbal threats toward another person
  • Physical threats toward another person

How you can help

  • When a student expresses a direct threat to themselves or others, or acts in a bizarre, highly irrational or disruptive way, contact the JHU Public Safety at 410-516-4600 or the JHU Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team (BHCST) at 410-516-WELL (9355) immediately.
  • Do not leave a suicidal student alone. Stay with them until help arrives.

Suggestions for talking to a student about your concerns

  • You can call the Counseling Center or BHCST (Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team) for a consultation to discuss your concerns about a student and for guidance on how to address the situation. If you would like a clinician to conduct an in-person assessment of the student, you may contact BHCST.
  • Arrange to speak to the student in private.
  • Accept and respect what is said without judgment.
  • Try to help the student focus on an aspect of the problem that is manageable.
  • Avoid easy answers, such as “Everything will be alright” which can feel minimizing.
  • Help the person recall constructive coping strategies that worked in the past; get the person to agree to do something constructive to help change things now.
  • Trust your instincts and reactions. Consult if you’re unsure of what to do.
  • Do not promise the person confidentiality, there may be circumstances where you need to share information to get the student help.
  • Let others know your concern. The Office of the Dean of Student Life or the Director of Students Affairs at your school can be of assistance and may have other information that raises the level of concern about a student.

Making a referral

When you determine that a student is in need of help that you are not equipped to provide, a referral is warranted. While many students seek help on their own, some students may not be familiar with the resources on campus, they may not view their problem as serious enough to warrant professional help, or they may be hesitant to take the first step.

  • Be honest with the student about the limits of your time and ability to help.
  • Let the student know that you think that assistance from another resource on campus could be very helpful to them.
  • Assure the student that they are not alone and that many students seek help over the course of their college careers.
  • Assist the student in choosing the most appropriate referral source.
  • Determine who will make the initial contact with the referral person.
  • If you are referring to the Counseling Center, you might have the student call for an initial appointment. The Counseling Center has on-call counselors available throughout the day and after hours to meet with students in need of immediate assistance.
  • If the student is reluctant to seek help, ask them to think about your recommendation or to try one counseling session. Refer the student to the Counseling Center website for more information. Let them know that because of your concern, you will follow up with them to see how they are doing in one week.
  • In an emergency, when there is imminent danger of physical harm to self and/or others, disabling emotional distress, and/or gross impairment in thinking, you may need to involve JHU Public Safety or JHU BHCST (Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team) to assist you.


Sexual Assault

Remember that ALL Responsible Employees who receive reports, or otherwise become aware of sexual misconduct, are required to promptly report such misconduct to the Title IX Coordinator. Responsible Employees include academic administrators, academic advisors, supervisors, department heads and chairs, directors, deans, student affairs staff, faculty, human resources personnel, campus security officers, resident advisors, and athletic coaches.

If you are a Responsible Employee, tell the student that any information shared with you about sexual misconduct must be reported to the Title IX Coordinator. Recommend that the student call the JHU Sexual Assault Helpline (410-516-7333), a confidential resource for all JHU students that provides confidential information about medical, emotional support, legal and University disciplinary options. Callers can choose to remain anonymous. Calls to the Helpline do not constitute reporting an incident of sexual misconduct to the University. The Counseling Center (or other mental health resources), the Student Health & Wellness Center, the University Chaplains and the Gender Violence Prevention & Education specialist are resources on campus where sexual misconduct can be shared and discussed confidentially. If the student continues to share information with you about a sexual assault, be transparent with them about reporting this information to the Title IX Coordinator (410-516-8075) and involve the student in the process as appropriate.

Important Phone Numbers

Counseling Center 410-516-8278

Counseling Center on-call clinician (available 24/7) 410-516-8278 and press “1” to get directly connected to the on-call counselor

JHU Behavioral Health Crisis Support Team (BHCST) 410-516-WELL (9355)

JHU Public Safety 410-516-4600

Peabody Security 667-208-6608

Sexual Assault Helpline (for all JHU students) 410-516-7333

Office of the Dean of Student Life (Homewood) 410-516-8208

Title IX Coordinator (Office of Institutional Equity) 410-516-8075