Recognizing and Assisting a Student in Crisis

What is a Crisis?

When a person experiences or perceives a threat to self-esteem, significant relationships, or role mastery, anxiety and fear are aroused.  When the usual coping strategies do not restore an internal sense of confidence that these feelings can be tolerated and managed, a crisis state ensues.

The person’s usual coping mechanisms are overwhelmed and the anxiety and fear create a heightened tension.  It is in this climax of tension that a window of opportunity for growth is opened.  The need to relieve the tension increases the motivation to explore alternative resolutions to end the psychological disruption.

Signs of Student Crisis

At one time or another everyone feels upset or distressed.  However, there are three levels of student distress which, when present over a period of time, suggest that a student may be in crisis.

     Level 1
      • Changes in academic participation or performance
      • Changes in social interactions
      • Changes in physical appearance
      • Problems concentrating and remembering things or making decisions
     Level 2
      • Repeated request for special consideration
      • New or regularly occurring behavior which pushes the limits and may interfere with class management or be disruptive to other students, faculty, or staff
      • Unusual or exaggerated emotional responses
      • Persistent sadness or unexplained crying
      • High levels of irritability or inappropriate excitement
     Level 3
      • Highly disturbed behavior
      • Outbursts of anger
      • Inability to communicate clearly (irrational conversation, disconnected thoughts, etc.)
      • Loss of contact with reality (seeing/hearing things that are not there, beliefs or actions at odds with reality)
      • Suspiciousness, irrational feelings of persecution
      • Statements related to death or dying or feelings of hopelessness
      • Threats of harming self or harming others
What Can you Do to Help?

It is challenging to help someone who is under significant stress and not coping well.  When dealing with someone in crisis, it is important to be sensitive to how the interaction is going.  Do you understand what the problem is?  Can you meet the person’s expectations in this encounter?  Pay attention to your own feelings of safety.  Be alert to cues that you may need a professional consultation from the Counseling Center, or, in an emergency, immediate assistance from University Police.

Responses to Level 1 and 2 Behavior
      • Talk to the student in private when you both have time
      • Express your concern in non-judgmental terms
      • Listen to the student and repeat the gist of what the student is saying
      • Identify options available to the student
      • Clarify the costs and benefits of each option for handling the problem from the student’s point of view
      • Respect the student’s value system
      • Ask if the student is considering suicide
      • Make appropriate referrals if necessary (including referral to the Care Team)
      • Make sure the student understands what action is necessary and make plans to follow-up with the student on this action
      • If student refuses a referral, please complete a Care Team Report or call the Dean of Student Office (701)231-7701
Responses to Level 3 Behavior
      •  Remain calm and keep a safe distance when someone is angry, hostile, or demanding
      • Be respectful, but do not pretend to understand a student with confused thoughts who is out of touch with reality
      • Express empathy, and paraphrase what has been said to be clear that you understand.
      • Find someone to stay with the student if possible and safe to do so
      • Call University Police (701)231-8998 or the Counseling Center (701)231-7671
What if a Student is Thinking About Suicide?

All suicide threats or gestures should be taken seriously. Suicide attempts are first and foremost a medical emergency.  If danger or suicidal behavior appears imminent: 1) stay calm, and 2) contact University Police at (701)231-8998 or dial 911.

If there is no immediate danger, the student should be escorted to the Counseling Center, 212 Ceres Hall, to speak with a counselor.  If this occurs after normal business hours, contact the counselor on call at (701)231-7671.

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