Crisis vs Distress

Understanding the Difference between a Student in Crisis and a Student Experiencing Stress

Student in Crisis

If a student is in a serious mental health crisis, you might see or hear the following:

  • Suicidal statements or suicide attempts
  • Written or verbal threats, or attempted homicide or assault
  • Destruction of property or other criminal acts
  • Inability to communicate (e.g., garbled or slurred speech, disjointed thoughts)
  • Loss of contact with reality (e.g., seeing or hearing things that aren’t there, expressing beliefs or actions at odds with reality)
  • Highly disruptive behavior (e.g., hostility, aggression, violence)

What To Do When You Suspect a Serious Crisis:

If you believe there may be imminent danger of harm to a student or someone else, as evidenced by several of the crisis symptoms listed above, immediately call the UCF Police (407-823-5555) or (911) for assistance. You may also consider walking the student to the to UCF CAPS. If you are unsure how to proceed you can call UCF CAPS for a consultation during business hours at 407-823-2811 (press #5 afterhours).

Student Experiencing Stress

Stress is a part of every student’s life. However, there are some indicators that, when present over time, suggest that a student’s stress level may be a cause for concern. In these circumstances, you might see or hear the following:

  • Uncharacteristic changes in academic performance
  • Uncharacteristic changes in attendance at class or meetings
  • Depressed or lethargic mood
  • Hyperactivity and/or rapid speech
  • Social withdrawal
  • Marked change in personal dress, hygiene, eating and/or sleeping routines
  • Repeatedly falling asleep in class
  • Requests for special consideration, especially if the student is uncomfortable talking about the circumstances prompting the request
  • New or recurrent behavior that pushes the limits of decorum and that interferes with the effective management of your class, work team, etc.
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional response to events

What To Do When You Suspect a Student is Experiencing Stress:

If you choose to approach a student you are concerned about or if a student seeks you out, here are some suggestions that might be helpful:

  • 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.
  • Be direct and nonjudgmental. Be direct and specific. Express your concern in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms. 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 emphasize that seeking help is a sign of strength. Make some suggestions about places to go for help (UCF CAPS, Student Care Services, Student Health Services, Wellness and Health Promotions, Victim Services, etc.). Tell the student what you know about the recommended person or service.
  • Follow up. Following up is an important part of the process. Check with the student later to find out how he or she is doing, and provide support as appropriate.