How to Handle Distressed Students

How to Handle Distressed Students

Responding to Distressed Behavior at Sacramento State

Faculty and staff can play an extremely important role in referring students for help. You are frequently in a position to first observe signs of distress and, although it’s not always apparent, students typically hold faculty and staff in high regard. Distressing behavior by students occurs on a continuum of low-distress to high-distress behaviors.

Low Distress: ACTION – Talk to Student

A simple and straightforward expression of concern is, in most cases, the most powerful way of helping a student. Tell them what you have observed and that you are concerned about their wellbeing and their success. Explain that there are services available on campus (see: Accessing CAPS Services) to help students get back on track when life circumstances are getting in the way. Examples of distress:

  • Excessive class absences
  • Declining academic performance
  • Poor emotional control
  • Excessive moodiness
  • Dramatice changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive concern about personal health
  • Reduced interaction and socialization
  • Increased substance use
Significant Distress: ACTION – Referral

There are times when behavior is so distressing that an immediate referral to the Sac State Counseling and Psychological Services at The WELL. Assure the student that counseling services are a confidential place to discuss their concerns and also a free service covered in their tuition. It is helpful if someone can walk with the student to the counseling center or call the center to let counseling staff know that a student has been referred and is walking over to the center. If a student is hesitant to follow through with the referral, it may be helpful to sit with them while they call the counseling center to explore options for services (See: Accessing CAPS Services). Of course, you cannot force a student to go, but you can re-emphasize your concern and provide them with contact information for the counseling center. Examples of behaviors demonstrating significant distress include:

  • Writing or talking openly about suicide
  • Self-injurious behavior
  • Increased risk taking behaviors and impulsivity
Emergency Situations: ACTION – Call Campus Police or 911

If you have answered the question, “Does the behavior place anyone in immediate risk,” in the affirmative, call campus police or 911. This document was originally created by Oregon State University and adapted by California State University, Sacramento.

Accessing CAPS Services

Student Services

Student with non-urgent or emergent counseling needs can access CAPS by scheduling a phone triage. Triage appointments can be scheduled via phone by calling 916-276-6416 or in person on the 1st or 2nd floor or Student Health and Counseling Services at The WELL. Students can also schedule a triage appointment online via the student portal. Students who have an existing relationship with a CAPS staff member can call their counselor directly to consult during business hours or call the main (278-6416) during off hours to speak with an on-call nurse.

Students with urgent or emergent concerns can walk or be escorted into Urgent Care Counseling on the 1st floor of Student Health & Counseling Services at The WELL or by calling CAPS reception and asking for the urgent care counselor. If a student is in imminent danger, please contact Campus Police or call 911.

Faculty, Staff and Administrator Services

CAPS clinicians are also available to assist faculty, staff, and administrators for any campus crises. We can come to any site on campus in order to debrief with individuals or groups following a crisis. During regular business, please contact us at 916-278-6416. Should faculty, staff, or administrators critically need to reach us after hours, please contact your Vice President, who can reach us through the Vice President of Planning Enrollment Management & Student Affairs (PEMSA). Staff, faculty, and administrators may receive counseling assistance through the Employee Assistance Program. More information about their services is at: While we are available, we also do not want to impose. Research shows that individual often underestimate the resilience of those who face a crisis or trauma. Support by friends, peers, colleagues, and family can often be most beneficial.

Useful Documents

How to Manage Reactions to Trauma and Stress

Sacramento State Crisis Team

Sacramento State has a Crisis Team that meets to discuss and coordinate concerns about students or other campus community members. The team meets monthly (or more frequently if needed).

As matters discussed may be sensitive, the discussions are confidential; however, in all cases where other university officials need to be notified about an issue, a team member will contact the appropriate campus resource.

Current Committee Members:

  • University Counsel – Jill C. Peterson, 278-6940
  • Chief of Campus Police – Mark Iwasa, 278-7321
  • Director of Student Conduct – Ardith Tregenza, 278-6062
  • Associate VP Labor Relations and Compliance – Kent Porter, 278-6779
  • Associate VP of Student Affairs - Beth Lesen, 278-6060
  • Director of CAPS – Karen Durst, 278-4988

Members of the campus community should contact any of the above individuals if he/she has a concern about a student, staff, faculty member, or any other relevant situation.

Download This Document

This Document was originally created by Oregon State University and adapted by California State University, Sacramento