University of Minnesota

Communicating Distress Through Writing

Identifying the Problem

Occasionally, a student may express feelings of distress which can include suicidal thoughts to a professor, teaching assistant or instructor through email, a composition for class or in a letter. When this occurs it should not be ignored. A student can be reaching out for help.

How to Respond:

  1. Acknowledge receipt of the information.
  2. Validate that the student is expressing discomfort and/or painful feelings, experiences.
  3. Express concern yet clarify that the information being shared is beyond your scope of experience.
  4. Do not ask the student to elaborate.
  5. Suggest and recommend to the student that importance of talking with someone who can help and understand.
  6. Provide University Resources as appropriate.
  7. Document all interactions.
  8. Inform department head and/or Student Affairs director in your college office, of the situation and your attempt to manage it.
  9. If student is an international student and you have questions pertaining to understanding cultural differences, contact ISSS.

If written communication continues after the first incident:

  1. Reiterate to the student your concern and clarify your role is as a teacher not a therapist. Reinforce you want to be helpful, but helping is getting the student to someone who is trained to deal with these type of issues.
  2. Refer to appropriate resource
  3. Inform Student Judicial Affairs. They may need to get involved to reinforce boundaries between instructor and student.
  4. Consult with Boynton Health Service or University Counseling and Consulting Services for additional direction and support.

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: