Actions you can take

A common indicator of distress is change – behaving or reacting in ways that are different from what is typical for a particular individual. Take a moment to reflect on what you have observed or have gathered through conversations with the student to determine which actions you should take when concerned about a student.


Behaviour indicating Common, mild, reversible distress.
Irritable, impatient
Nervousness, sadness, apathy
Increased worrying
Difficulty relaxing
Trouble sleeping, falling asleep in class
Lowered energy
Procrastination, forgetfulness
Decreased social activity
Pressured by academic demands
Missed deadlines, requests for extensions


Behaviour indicating Significant functional impairment.
Frequent anger, anxiety
Significant changes in appearances, lingering sadness, tearfulness
Disturbed sleep, repeatedly falling asleep in class
Difficulty listening, processing and problem solving
Avoidance of social situations, withdrawal
Sudden or significant change in academic performance
Repeated absences, multiple missed deadlines including exams, requests for extensions
Repeated concerns of intoxication
Statements of hopelessness, helplessness or other suicide-related communication
Harassing or stalking behaviour
Verbal abuse, intimidation, overly demanding


Behaviour indicating Clinical disorder. Severe and persistent functional impairment.
Angry outbursts, excessive anxiety or panic
Threats of violence or harm to self or others
Significant changes in appearance
Persistent depressed mood
Constant fatigue and feeling overwhelmed
Significant disturbances in thinking, bizarre, delusional, paranoid thoughts
Disturbing communication (written or verbal)
Not answering email/phone
Significant difficulty with academic functioning

Urgent Assistance

 Immediate threat or danger; life threatening or severe psychological difficulties

  • Saskatoon Police Service 911 or 9-911 (on campus)
  • Royal University Hospital 103 Hospital Drive
  • Campus Protective Services (306) 966-5555

Urgent after hours assistance

  • Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Services (306) 933-6200 (24 hour crisis and consultation line)
  • Campus Protective Services (306) 966-5555
  • Royal University Hospital Emergency Department 103 Hospital Drive
  • Saskatoon Police Service 911 or 9-911 on campus
  • Saskatoon Sexual Assault Crisis Line (306) 244-2224

Start a conversation with the student

An initial conversation or inquiry about a student’s well-being can have a significant impact, often prompting them to access timely help or makes the changes necessary to ensure their academic situation isn’t jeopardized.

Guidelines for Talking with a Distressed Student

1. Talk in private and when you are not rushed

2. Be specific and direct

Describe the behaviours that are concerning and ask how the student is doing. For example:

  • I noticed that you were tearful (rather than depressed) in the group discussion today. I just wanted to check in and see if you’re okay.
  • I noticed that your grades have dropped quite a bit from last year. That can happen when courses get more challenging, but sometimes it’s happens when students have other things going on in life that are affecting their studies. Is that happening for you?

3. Truly listen

While it is automatic to want to fix, solve and make suggestions, one of the most meaningful ways to communicate care is to express an interest in hearing and understand a person’s experience. Other ways to communicate genuine interest include limit distractions, try not to rush the conversation, reflect back what you’ve heard and ask questions to clarify.

4. Acknowledge common stressors and experiences

Students often have the “I’m the only one” experience. While it is important for a student to have their experience respected, there are times when it can be very helpful to know that other students have similar experiences. Example:

  • Many first year students question whether they have what it takes to succeed at university, but think they are the only ones who doesn’t have it all worked out. How are you finding things?

5. Ask questions that help the student talk about their concerns

Often people have new understandings when they describe their circumstance to an interested party. The following questions can help facilitate this process:

  • What is the hardest part of this for you?
  • What are you most concerned about?
  • How is this affecting you?

6. Resist the urge to begin with suggestions or advice

Unless the situation is urgent (an immediate action is needed or the student is unable to engage in discussion or problem solving), it is most helpful to foster the student’s sense of being able to cope. Invite the student to them to draw on their own resources and experiences and encourage them to talk with people they trust and think may be helpful (e.g., friends, family, religious leader). Examples:

  • What options are you considering?
  • What have you tried so far?
  • Have you been in a similar situation before? If so, what helped then?
  • Who has been helpful to talk to in the past?

7. Provide information on resources and support services available on campus.

Let students know about the support services available on campus and explain this as routine practice to avoid them feeling judged or deemed to be  in need of special assistance. Walk the student to the support service if you have a serious concern.

Note that accessing these services is voluntary, unless the situation is urgent and the student is not safe managing on their own. 

8. Offer accommodations and assistance as appropriate. Be clear about expectations.

In most colleges instructors have the prerogative to grant academic accommodations (e.g., due date extensions, alternate dates for exams other than the final) without supporting documentation.

Getting Help

Consider consulting with a colleague, supervisor, department head, associate dean or other trusted member of the U of S community

Student Affairs and Outreach 306-966-5757
When a student is in crisis or experiencing significant distress which is interfering with their academic or personal functioning and you have questions about the following: seriousness of the situation, how best to intervene, how to deliver bad news, what accommodations may be appropriate, what services are available, and when, how, and assistance in referring students to various services.

The Student of Concern Advisory Team is called together by the manager of Student Affairs and Outreach when a student is engaging in threatening or disruptive behaviour, when a traumatic event occurs on campus or impacts the campus community.

Protective Services 306-966-5555 (24 hours)
When you are concerned about criminal behaviour, threatening behaviour, violence or immediate danger.

Mobile Crisis 306-933-6200 (24 hours) 
When you require after-hours consultation or assistance regarding an urgent situation.

Referring Students to Services

Find listing of supports and services available on campus.