As parents and guardians, you continue to play a vital role in the lives of your college-aged children. You probably know your son or daughter better than anyone else and are more likely to notice changes in mood or behavior that may be signs of distress. Since students tend to turn to their parents when it comes to making important decisions, your suggestions regarding reaching out to resources for assistance can be very influential. The following information describes signs that can be indications of distress, suggestions on how to respond effectively when your student approaches you with problems, how to make an effective referral and information about the Counseling Center as an important resource on campus.

Signs of distress

Changes in Academic Performance

  • Decline in academic performance
  • Excessive absences from class
  • Confusion or uncertainty about interest, abilities or values

Unusual Behavior

  • Listlessness, lack of energy, complaints about fatigue
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene
  • Impaired speech or disjointed, confused thoughts
  • Aggressive or threatening behavior
  • Extreme mood changes or inappropriate displays of emotion
  • Excessive crying
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • Preoccupation with food or body image
  • Bizarre behavior indicating a loss of contact with reality

Changes in Relationships

  • Death of a family member or close friend
  • Difficulties in romantic relationships
  • Problems with family members, friends or roommates
  • Extreme isolation
  • Becoming too dependent on one relationship at the expense of previously important connections with others

References to Suicide

  • Overt references to suicide
  • Statements of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Indications of prolonged unhappiness
  • Pessimism about the future

How to respond

  • Talk to your student as soon as you notice something unusual, don’t ignore atypical or disturbing behavior.
  • Express your concern in a caring manner and indicate the specific behaviors that are causing you to be concerned.
  • Use “I” language that focuses on what you have noticed or what you are feeling.
  • Talk to your student in private when you both have enough time for a conversation.
  • Listen attentively and avoid being critical or judgmental.
  • Encourage positive action by helping your student define the problem and possible ways of handling it; AVOID THE TEMPTATION TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM FOR THEM.
  • Ask directly how you can best help.
  • Know your limits as a helper. Parents can do a lot, but sometimes professional help is needed.

Making a referral to the Counseling Center

The Counseling Center is a place where undergraduate and graduate students at Homewood and Peabody can speak with a mental health professional about issues in a confidential setting. The Counseling Center staff are well versed in college student mental health issues and have experience helping students with a wide range of concerns. Our diverse staff includes, psychologists, psychiatrists, Social Workers and doctoral level psychology interns. The Counseling Center provides free, confidential, solution-focused, short term individual, couples and group counseling, psychiatric evaluations and medication management, and after hours crisis intervention services.

Students may initially be hesitant about seeking counseling. Reassuring them that many students utilize our services and telling them directly and clearly why you think counseling could be helpful may encourage them to seek help.

  • Review information about the counseling process with students using the Counseling Center website. Emphasize that services are confidential and free.
  • Suggest that your student attend one session before judging whether counseling is helpful or not.
  • Point out that using appropriate resources and addressing problems rather than avoiding them is a sign of strength and maturity.
  • Except in cases of imminent danger to self or others, it is important to allow your son or daughter to make their own decision about counseling. Just because they don’t follow through immediately doesn’t mean that your suggestions aren’t being considered.
  • While it is preferable for the student to take the step of making a first appointment on their own, the counseling staff are willing to consult with you about our services and how to encourage your student to seek help.
  • If your student would be more comfortable seeking counseling from an off-campus provider, we can assist you with referrals. Please call the office and ask to speak with our case manager.

Mental Health resources for other JHU campus locations and programs

Johns Hopkins Student Assistance Program (JHSAP) – 443-287-7000
Serves graduate, medical & professional students, & their immediate family members.

Johns Hopkins University Health Services/Mental Health
Serves BSPH, SOM, and SON students, residents, fellows & trainees & their spouses or domestic partners.

  • University Health Services (UHS) – 410-955-3250
    933 N. Wolfe Street
    Baltimore, MD 21205
  • Mental Health Services – 410-955-1892
    Available by telephone 24/7.
    Press “0” to speak with the on-call psychiatrist in an emergency


If you think your son or daughter is in imminent danger of harming themselves or someone else, please call JHU Security 410-516-7777. They will respond and involve the Counseling Center as indicated.

For non-life-threatening emergencies: The Counseling Center provides 24 hour emergency services to assist students who are in crisis. During business hours, please call the Counseling Center 410-516-8278 and indicate that you need immediate assistance. After hours, call JHU Security 410-516-7777 and ask to speak with the Counseling Center on-call counselor.

Sexual Assault Services

Encourage your student to call the JHU Sexual Assault Helpline 410-516-7333. This is a confidential service available 24/7 to ALL Johns Hopkins University students. Callers are assisted in accessing medical help, services they might need to feel safe on campus, emotional support and options for reporting the assault to the University and/or police can be discussed. Callers may remain anonymous and decisions about what, if anything, they do next are their choice. All calls to the Helpline are confidential and do not constitute making an official report to the University of sexual misconduct. The Helpline is staffed by the professionals from the Counseling Center.

More information about the University’s sexual assault resources and policies can be found at


The Counseling Center is required by law and professional ethics to protect the confidentiality of all contacts with students. The only exceptions occur in cases of imminent danger to self or others, situations involving child or elder abuse or when there is a court order. Without a student’s written permission, we cannot discuss the content of counseling sessions or whether or not your student has been seen at the Counseling Center. If you think it is important for you to dialogue with your student’s counselor, please share this concern with your student and request that they sign a release of information form allowing us to share information with you.

If you have questions about our services or if you would like to consult with a staff member about concerns regarding your student, please feel free to call our office.

Continuation of Treatment – Making a smooth transition to college

For students who have been in treatment at home for psychological difficulties, it can be important to continue psychological and psychiatric support during the transition to college. The Counseling Center staff can work with your family and your student’s home treatment provider to assist in a smooth and successful transition to JHU by helping you identify appropriate treatment either on or off campus. It is important to plan for your students continued treatment BEFORE they arrive on campus.

  • A month or so prior to arriving on campus, discuss with the home treatment provider your student’s needs regarding continued counseling or medication at college.
  • Encourage your student to discuss the benefits of remaining in counseling and/or on medication through this time of transition.
  • Suggest your student sign a release of information form that will give the home treatment provider permission to discuss your student’s needs with the JHU Counseling Center.
  • Decide whether your student’s psychological/psychiatric needs are best met on or off campus. Our staff can consult with you about this decision.
  • Encourage your student to call and schedule an appointment to transfer their care to a new providers either on or off campus. It is helpful for the student to initiate these appointments, because they will need to take on this responsibility when they arrive on campus. We recommend that these appointments be scheduled prior to their arrival on campus to ensure continuity of care

Important Phone Numbers

Counseling Center 410-516-8278

JHU Security 410-516-7777

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