University of Minnesota

Communicating Distress Verbally

Identifying the Problem

Students often experience stress in their daily lives. They can be struggling with depression, anxiety, relationship issues etc. Personal issues often can impact a student's academic functioning. There are circumstances where a student might feel comfortable with an instructor and want to open up about personal issues and problems. A student may also want a professor to know how bad (s)he is feeling if the student can't take a test or get a paper done. Suicidal thought and plans may be expressed if a student is feeling hopeless, significantly depressed or overwhelmed.

How to Respond:

  1. Stay calm and listen.
  2. Let a student express feelings. However, after the initial outburst you want to let the student clearly know that your role is primarily as a teacher and secondarily as a person who can direct them to the help needed to deal with his/her issues.
  3. If a student has a reasonable concern that you can accommodate, discuss and agree upon a plan. A student may feel better and be less emotional after (s)he discusses concerns.
  4. Be accepting and do not judge.
  5. If overwhelmed by the student's behavior in your office consult with your Student Affairs staff in your college office. In addition, you may call University Counseling & Consulting Services for guidance. If the student identifies him/herself as a patient at Boynton Mental Health, call 612-624-3323 (Urgent Counseling).
  6. If a student has mentioned suicide, ask directly if (s)he has a plan. Take the student seriously and clearly state that (s)he must talk with a professional before you can feel comfortable. If needed, a student can be taken to the emergency room of Fairview-University Hospitals, West Bank ER, for immediate assessment. During business day hours, a student can consult with University Counseling & Consulting Services or Boynton Health Service Mental Health Clinic.

University Resources:

  1. Student Counseling Services
    340 Appleby Hall
    Phone: 612-624-3323
  2. Boynton Health Service, Mental Health Clinic (4th floor)
    410 Church St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455
    Phone: 612-624-1444 (clinic number), 612-625-8475 (Urgent Counselor)
  3. International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS)
    190 Humphrey Center
    Phone: 612-624-7100

Twin Cities Campus: