Warning Signs

If you live or work on campus, you may encounter a student with mental health needs. There are steps you can take to assist and refer them to helpful resources.

Step 1: Identify the Warning Signs

Special training is not needed to realize the signs of a student in distress. What is needed is awareness of the symptoms. Some people may not tell you is wrong, so pay attention to their behavior. This is not an exhaustive list. However, they are things we are likely to notice about our friends and students.  Look for any change in the following areas:


  • Avoids eye contact
  • Showing up for class and leaving early
  • Skipping class frequently
  • Avoids social opportunities
  • Stays in room or bed all day

Challenging Communication

  • Speaks in a confused or disorganized manner
  • Has a negative or hopeless outlook
  • Blames others for behavior/mood
  • Intend to hurt themselves or someone else

Changes in Mood or Behavior

  • Appears agitated, depressed, “check-out” uptight or on edge
  • Neglects personal hygiene or appearance
  • Increased drugs or alcohol use
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Increased sleep or an inability to sleepy almost everyday
  • Decreased ability to concentrate

Step 2: Listen

Asking what’s wrong or what’s going on is OK to do. Problems are not created when they are not there by asking these types of questions. Know how important it is to listen. You can provide support and help students feel listened to without doing anything else. Talking with someone in person works best when you can, however texts and email is better than no communication at all.

  • Be attentive
  • Pay attention to both the verbal and non-verbal cues
  • Do not judge or dismiss the person

Step 3: Communicate Concern

In a calm and non-judgemental way, show that you are concerned. Let the person know you see they are having a hard time and it that OK.

  • Do not say something like, “Your life is a mess.”
  • Say something like, “I’m concerned. It looks like you have not been yourself lately.”

Step 4: Make a referral

Keep in mind that struggling with normal life events does not always require counseling. However, if the situation is causing a severe reaction (e.g. the student seems to be spiraling downward or not functioning well) or it has been ongoing for more than a week or two, then a referral to counseling may be appropriate.

The Student Center for Health and Counseling is here to assist and offer direction and advice. If you would like to talk with a staff member about how to handle a student’s concerns, call 218-755-2053.

When Do I Refer?

  • Look at the above signs to determine if they apply to the student. Your intuition is usually not wrong in these situations even if you do not see anything.
  • If you have immediate concerns about a student’s safety, (you think he/she may harm themselves or someone else), stay with the student and call Campus Safety at 218-755-3888.
  • If you are concerned and there is no immediate danger, feel free to work with Campus Safety or take the student to the Student Center for Health and Counseling, First Floor Cedar Hall during business hours.

After-hour Options

  • Contact the student’s resident advisor or residence life professional staff
  • Call the Department of Public Safety at 218-755-3888

How do I refer?

  • Encourage the student make an appointment directly if possible. You may want to assist them by giving them the number, wait while the appointment is made or even walk with them to the Student Center for Health and Counseling.