Helping Students in Distress

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Embrace the Wellness Center, where faculty and staff unite to support students in distress. We understand the challenges students face and are dedicated to providing compassionate care. Our center offers a range of services, from counseling to workshops, empowering students to navigate difficulties and thrive. By collaborating with campus resources and external organizations, we ensure comprehensive care and support. Together, we can make a difference in students’ lives, fostering healing and growth.

If someone you know may be experiencing mental health issues, the Wellness Center is here to help. Start with our four-step referral process below, and be sure to review and download the PDF so you’re ready if and when you need it.

For details on when to approach and refer a student, look to our four-step referral process below. If you’re still unsure if it’s appropriate to make a referral, call the Wellness Center at 718-482-5471 to share your observations and concerns with a counselor. (See our current hours.)

If a student is a danger to themselves or others, contact Public Safety at 718-482-5555 or call 911.

Four-Step Referral Process

Our four-step referral process will help you identify and respond to students who are in distress, who are disruptive in class and other spaces on campus, or who may be at risk of harming themselves or others.

Recognize the warning signs. Particular language and behaviors signal that a student may be experiencing personal, social or psychological distress (e.g. withdrawal, disturbing speech/communication or changes in mood or behavior.)

Focus on what they’re saying and express concern. Speak to the student privately. Don’t be afraid to ask “How are you feeling?” Explain what you have heard or observed that makes you concerned about the student. “I’m concerned about…” Allow the student to talk and help them elaborate. Pick up on cues from body language. Listen respectfully without judgment. Be careful not to overact with too much emotion or panic. Validate the difficult circumstances or feelings expressed and convey your concern for the student’s well-being.

Recommend the student speak to a counselor in the Wellness Center. Explain the helpfulness of counseling and normalize the process. Emphasize that the services are free and confidential. Involve the student in the referral. Make the initial contact by calling the Wellness Center at 718-482-5471.

If the student is reluctant to accept a referral or you are uncomfortable suggesting services, call the Wellness Center and share your observations and concerns. A plan can be arranged to reach the student and to assess their emotional state.

Follow up and continue support. Communicate your continued interest and concern by checking with the student to determine whether they followed up on your recommendation. Continue to be supportive and inquire periodically about how they are doing. Please remember that confidentiality limits the Wellness Center from providing information about a student without their written consent.

Additional Resources

Most distressed students are relieved to know that someone has noticed and is paying attention. Here are some additional resources to help you support them.
Learn more about how the Wellness Center supports students.

View resources to help those with stress and anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic.

See a full list of emergency services, mental health organizations and more.

Keep safety in mind. As you interact with a distressed student, maintain a safe distance. Trust your instinct. If danger to you or the student seems imminent, call Public Safety at ext. 5555.

Avoid escalation. Distressed students can sometimes be easily provoked. Avoid responses that are intimidating, threatening or humiliating. Refrain from asserting authority unless you are certain of the student’s mental health status. Distressed students are in need of listening and support.

Ask direct questions. Take a calm and matter-of-fact approach. Ask the student directly if they are under the influence, confused or have thoughts of harming themselves.

Ask open-ended questions. Encourage the student to go further into the subject, beyond yes/no answers. (e.g. “Tell me more about…” and “How have you been feeling since that happened to you?”)

Confirm your understanding of the issue. Respond to the student by reflecting back what they said, but in your own words, to ensure you understand the issue.

Don’t dismiss the student’s perspective. What may seem like a temporary or insignificant issue to you may feel momentous and overwhelming to a student in distress. It may be helpful for you to reflect upon a time in your own life when you experienced something similar. (Remember when you had to juggle school, work and life?)

Avoid labeling the student or his/her behavior. For example, don’t say “You’re an alcoholic” or “You’re high.” Labels can anger the student and reduce the chances that they will acknowledge and address the problem. Maintain the professional nature of a relationship with your student and help him/her understand available options.

Acknowledge the student’s courage to open up. Frame the decision to accept help as being a mature choice. Suggest that a willingness to accept assistance from others, including a counselor, indicates that the student is not running away from problems. Reinforce that speaking to a counselor is a positive and responsible thing to do.

This is especially important to males, as men in our society are encouraged to be independent, keep feelings to themselves and solve problems on their own.

Do not assume you are being manipulated. While it is true that some students appear distressed in order to get attention or relief from responsibility, only a thorough assessment can determine this. Attention-seekers can have serious problems and be in danger, too.

Know your limits. You will be able to assist many distressed students on your own by simply listening and referring them to the Wellness Center. Respect any feelings of discomfort you may have, and focus on getting the student the help they need. Signs that you may be overextending yourself include feeling stressed or overwhelmed by the situation, feeling angry at or afraid of the student, and having thoughts of rescuing the student.

Respect the student’s privacy. Confidentiality is important for trust, so you typically should not share with others what the student has shared with you. In situations involving a serious risk of harm to the person or someone else, don’t promise to keep secrets.

Note: FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) does not prevent you from talking to another College employee or office about a student in distress in order to assist the student or protect yourself/class from disruption or threat of violence.

How We Can Help

Short-term Counseling

Students can discuss concerns with a licensed mental health professional in a safe and confidential setting.

Group Counseling
Students can share experiences, learn perspectives and practice new behaviors in a small group facilitated by one or more licensed mental health counselors.

Crisis Intervention
If a student is believed to be at risk, the Wellness Center is available to provide support and direction. See our referral guide for more information.

Referrals to Community-based Programs
We connect students with partnering agencies for extended care or specialized services.

A.S.S.I.S.T Program
This peer coaching program helps students on the autism spectrum and with severe anxiety disorders.

Alternative Wellness Workshops
Faculty, staff and students can participate in yoga, tai chi and other workshops that focus on mental, physical and spiritual health. See the campus calendar for upcoming events.

Outreach and Education
We provide a wide range of workshops, in-services and training for faculty, staff and students. We can also help you become a mentor to strengthen our network of support to students who are at risk for harm..

To arrange a workshop, please complete the Wellness Center Outreach & Education Request Form.

Each workshop lasts 60 minutes, unless otherwise noted in the form. If you have a topic in mind that is not on this list, we’d be happy discuss how we might be able to meet your needs. If you require an accommodation such as a sign language interpreter or captionist, please contact the Wellness Center no later than two weeks prior to the date of the workshop. Please send your request, including the topic you are interested in and your preferred date and time, to Matthew S. Joffe, director of outreach and education, at

We offer a training session for faculty and staff members called Managing Disruptive Behavior in the Classroom. This training will equip you with effective interventions to help prevent and/or limit behavior that negatively impacts the learning process.

Participate in our free classes to improve your mental, physical and spiritual health. All classes are open to faculty and staff, excluding Game Break. Check the campus calendar for more details.

Mental Health and Wellness Support

View past events facilitated by the Wellness Center to assist faculty and staff in supporting students with various mental health and wellness concerns.

Also, Kognito offers simulated, role-play conversations with virtual humans, allowing you to try different approaches to supporting students in emotional distress while receiving personalized feedback. Access code: laguardiaccaruf



Accredited by the International Association of Counseling Services, the Wellness Center provides counseling and wellness services that support students in their intellectual, emotional,
psychological and social development while helping them with the challenges of college and life stressors.

Office Hours

Please refer to the Campus Services page for current hours.

If a student needs to speak with someone outside of office hours, they can call 1-888-NYC-WELL (1-888-692-9355), text WELL to 65173 or visit NYC Well to chat with a counselor 24 hours/day, 7 days/week.

In emergency situations, contact Public Safety at 718-482-5555 or call 911.