Not sure whether to call for help?

If you can't decide whether what you're observing in the student warrants police involvement, perhaps the following will be helpful.

At one time or another, everyone feels depressed or upset. However, there are three situations involving student distress which might suggest that the problems are more than the “normal” ones.

Imminent Dangers/Critical Problems

These behaviors usually show that the student is in crisis and needs emergency care:

  • Highly disruptive behavior (hostility, aggression, etc.)
  • Violent or homicidal threats
  • Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech, disjointed thoughts)
  • Apparent loss of contact with reality (seeing/hearing things that are not there, beliefs or actions at odds with reality)
  • Overt suicidal thoughts, gestures, threats

Responses to Imminent Dangers /Critical Problems

  • Stay calm.
  • Call 911 from a campus phone or (413) 545 - 2121 to reach UMass Amherst Police
  • Inform your chair or manager
  • Center for Counseling and Psychological Health Crisis service (413) 545 - 2337

Ambiguous Problems/Dangers

Although not disruptive to others in your classroom or office, the following may indicate that something is wrong and that help may be needed:


  • inappropriate or exaggerated emotional reactions to situations
  • OR a lack of emotional response to stressful events
  • depressed or apathetic mood, excessive activity or talkativeness, evidence of crying,
  • noticeable change in appearance and hygiene, alcohol on the breath, etc.


  • Behavior which disrupts your office, or class or student interactions
  • Unusual or noticeably changed interaction patterns, e.g. avoidance of participation, excessive anxiety when called upon to speak, domination of discussions, etc.
  • Inability to remain awake in class


  • Extremely poor academic performance, or a change from high to low grades
  • Excessive absences, especially if prior class attendance was good
  • Repeated attempts to obtain deadline extensions or postpone tests

Possible Responses to Ambiguous Problematic 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 main point of what the student is saying
  • Clarify the pros and cons of each option for handling the problem
  • Ask direct questions, e.g. it is okay to ask if they are drunk, confused, or have thoughts of harming themselves
  • Make appropriate referrals if necessary
  • Make sure the student understands what action is necessary
  • Inform your chair or manager
  • Consult with CCPH counselor on duty 8:30-4:30 M-F.


It is especially important that staff and faculty are aware of what can be done to prevent the tragedy of suicide on college campuses.

What We Know about Suicide

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students
  • Most people who die by suicide have given some warning of their intent.
  • Students who are thinking about suicide will tell peers before anyone else
  • 80% don't come to Counseling Services, therefore we need a community approach.
  • Most suicidal people don't want to die, they just want the pain to stop.
  • Asking someone if they're suicidal will NOT make them more suicidal. In fact by directly asking, you may prevent someone from attempting suicide.

Responses to Suicidality:

Helpful Responses...

  • Show that you take the student's feelings seriously
  • Let the student know that you want to help
  • Listen attentively and empathize
  • Reassure that with help they can recover
  • Walk the student over to CCPH if it is between 8 and 5 Monday through Friday
  • If it is after five or on a weekend, call UMass Amherst police department at (413) 545 - 2121 for help
  • Don't go it alone. Helping someone who is feeling suicidal is hard, demanding, and draining work

Less helpful responses

  • Challenge the student
  • Analyze the student's motives
  • React with shock or disdain at the student's thoughts and feelings
  • Minimize the student's distress
  • Ignore your limitations (e.g., not consulting with available resources).
  • Put yourself in a compromising position of “promising” not to consult with others.