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Helping a Student in Distress

Contact Us


(617) 912-9112

Drop-In Hours
M, W, F: 11am - 1pm
32 The Fenway, Lower Level

After Hours
If you need to contact Counseling Services after business hours, or during office closings, please call the After Hours Counseling Support Line at 617-912-9183.

Faculty, staff, students and family members may witness early signs of distress experienced by a student. The counseling staff is always open to consult with members of the Conservatory community to help determine appropriate ways of engaging students who may need mental health care.

If you become concerned about a student’s mental health, you can contact one of our counselors at 617-912-9112 or We will review your concerns and determine what would be the best plan of action.

Signs and Symptoms of Distress

Students experiencing mental health concerns tend to show signs that they are struggling in some way. When symptoms of distress are persistent over a long period of time or when they interfere with academic responsibilities and social relationships, it may be a cause for concern.

The following is a list of signs that may indicate that a student is in distress:

Academic Signs

  • Deterioration in quality of work
  • Missed assignments or appointments
  • Repeated absence from class, lessons, rehearsals or performances
  • Continual requests for unusual accommodations (late papers, extensions, postponed exams, etc.)
  • Essays or papers that expresses hopelessness, social isolation, rage, or despair
  • Lack of engagement in participation-oriented classes
  • Inappropriate disruptions or monopolizing classroom time

Physical or Psychological Signs

  • Excessive anxiety or panic
  • Apathy, lack of energy, a change in sleeping or eating habits, or dramatic weight gain or loss
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene, work habits, or social behavior
  • Mood elevation
  • Isolation or withdrawal
  • Overtly suicidal thoughts, such as referring to suicide as a current option
  • Giving away treasured personal possessions
  • Increased irritability or aggressive behavior
  • Bizarre thinking, seemingly at odds with the reality of the situation (such as apparently paranoid ideas)
  • Excessive use of alcohol or other drugs

Other Factors to Consider

  • Direct statements indicating family problems, personal losses such as death of a family member or the break-up of a relationship
  • Expressions of concern about a student by peers
  • Written note or verbal statement that has a sense of hopelessness or finality
  • Your sense, however vague, that something is seriously amiss

What You Can Do

Taking the step to assist a student is a positive and life-affirming step to take. You can play an essential role by expressing your concern in a caring, nonjudgmental way.

Find a private, comfortable place to talk. 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.

Ask if the student has ever talked about this problem with anyone else, including a counselor. Try to get an accurate understanding of the issues, and, if appropriate, encourage the student to talk about the situation with a professional.

  • In your own words, express your concern using statements like, "I'm concerned that...".
  • Ask open-ended questions. The student may choose not to answer, but may feel relieved to know you are trying to understand.
  • Don't feel compelled to find a solution. Often, listening is enough.
  • Suggest that the student can get more help if needed.
  • Don't hesitate to reach out to the Counseling and Wellness Center if you have questions or concerns.

Making a Referral

Do not attempt to make a referral when the student is so upset and confused that he or she cannot understand or listen to you. Wait until the student is be able to converse and respond to your suggestions.

  • Suggest that the student make an appointment with the counseling staff by contacting Counseling Services.
  • If necessary, you can help the student make an appointment by contacting Counseling Services with the student.
  • Remind the student that the services at the counseling services are free and confidential.
  • If needed, walk the student to the Counseling and Wellness Center to him to request a counseling appointment. 

Identifying a Student in Crisis

A crisis is a situation in which an individual's usual style of coping is no longer effective, and the emotional or physiological response begins to escalate. As emotions intensify, coping becomes less effective, until the person becomes disoriented, nonfunctional, or attempts harm. 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 violence or acting out violently
  • Destruction of property or other criminal acts
  • Extreme anxiety resulting in panic reactions
  • 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)

Students in Crisis and Emergencies

If you believe a student is experiencing a mental health crisis during normal business hours, please contact Counseling Services at 617-912-9112 and one of our counselors will meet with him or her as soon as possible.

Outside of business hours, or during office closings, please call our After Hours Counseling Support Line at 617-912-9183. A counselor will be able to speak with you and provide the student with assistance.

If there is concern for the immediate physical safety of the student or others, please contact public safety at 617-912-9191 if the student is on campus, or contact 911 if the student is off campus.

A student in immediate crisis can also go to the nearest hospital emergency room if needed.

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