Skip to main content

How to Talk to a Student in Distress

• Alert a colleague of your plan, then talk to the student in private when both of you have time and are not rushed or preoccupied. Give the student your undivided attention. It is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel comfortable about what to do next. If you find that you are uncomfortable doing so alone, call the Behavior Intervention Team line (505-277-SAFE) to discuss your concerns and plan a strategy. 

• Be direct and non-judgmental. Express your concern in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms. Be direct and specific. 

For example, say something like “I’ve noticed you’ve been absent from class lately, and I’m concerned,” rather than “Why have you missed so much class lately?” 

• Listen sensitively. Listen to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non-threatening way. Communicate understanding by repeating back the essence of what the student has told you. Try to include both the content and feelings. For example, “It sounds like you’re not accustomed to such a big campus and you’re feeling left out of things.” Remember to let the student talk. 

• Refer. Point out that help is available and seeking help is a sign of strength. Several resources are listed in this brochure. Tell the student what you know about the recommended person or service. 

• Document and follow-up. Talk to the student the next day to find out if they took action.