Home » Students in Distress: A Guide for Vanderbilt Faculty & Staff

Students in Distress: A Guide for Vanderbilt Faculty & Staff

College & School Liaisons | Office of the Dean of Students Resources | Warning Signals of Distress | Physical, Behavioral and Emotional Concerns | Intervention | Imminent Harm/Life Endangering Situation | Urgent but Not Imminent Life Endangering | Distress: Non-urgent or Minimally Disruptive Behavior | Making Referrals | Education and Training Resources for Faculty & Staff | Additional Resources and Services

Most students adjust to the challenges of college life or graduate school on their own, or with support from family and friends. However, there may be occasions that indicate a need for professional help. Faculty and staff may be in a position to identify students who require additional assistance and refer them to appropriate resources. The information, below, is provided to help faculty and staff with their interactions with students. Users may find the Quick Links in the column to the left, useful in navigating this page.

College & School Liaisons

Each school or college has a designated point of contact who works with the Office of the Dean of Students and other offices to assist faculty and staff in helping students get the support they need.

Office of the Dean of Students Resources

Primary Resources and Contact Information

These resources are provided to help faculty and staff provide a safe and healthy learning and working environment for all students. If a Vanderbilt student finds it difficult to adjust, we provide a variety of resources designed to help meet his/her needs. Faculty and staff may be in a position to identify situations that indicate the need for professional help and refer students to these resources.

Office of the Dean of Students
615 – 32(2-6400)

Psychological and Counseling Center


  • Psychotherapy: Individual, Group and Support Groups
  • Psychiatric Services
  • Biofeedback
  • Assessment Services
  • Academic Skills Program
  • Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services
  • Consultation Services
  • Educational Outreach and Prevention: Workshops, programs, trainings

Phone 615 – 32(2-2571)
Hours 8am-5pm;  After hours info:
If you are in crisis, you may speak to a provider after hours by calling (615) 322-2571 and choosing to be transferred to the answering service. They will take your information and you will be called back by a PCC provider within minutes

ACT (Acute Care Team):

ACT staff members at the PCC are available to respond to students affected acutely by a traumatic event. Contact the PCC and ask to speak to or schedule an appointment with a member of the ACT team if you think you may benefit from this service or if you have recently experienced a traumatic event and would like support.  The student may request to speak with either a male or a female member of the ACT team.

Student Health Center


  • Medical Services
  • Acute Care
  • Allergy Shots
  • Immunizations
  • Speciality services

Phone 615 – 32(2-2427)

Residential Education


  • Resident Advisors, Paraprofessional staff
  • Area Coordinators, Professional Staff
  • Informational Programs on Stress, Time Management, etc.

Phone 615 – 32(2-2591)

Student Health and Wellness


  • Student Wellness Programming
  • Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention
  • Student Recovery Support (Vanderbilt Recovery Support)
  • Associate Deans Discussion & Planning Group (C.A.R.E. team)
  • Student Welfare Panel

Phone 615 – 32(2-0480)

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Warning Signals of Distress

Students may demonstrate behavior that indicates distress and a need for assistance. A combination of several factors more than a single circumstance is most likely to indicate a problem:

  • Academic performance concerns, uncharacteristic changes
  • Declining grades or reduced class participation
  • Incomplete or missing assignments
  • Repeated requests for extensions, incompletes, or withdrawals
  • Increased absenteeism or tardiness
  • Disruptive classroom behavior
  • Apparent memory loss or difficulty concentrating
  • Cheating, rule breaking, or defiance
  • Poor organization skills or trouble with note taking
  • Bizarre, aggressive or morbid comments or written content
  • Expressions of feeling hopeless, helpless, guilty and/or worthless
  • Self injury or other self-destructive behavior

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Physical and Emotional Signals

  • Chronic fatigue, falling asleep in class
  • Symptoms of being easily distracted, “spacey,” or a tendency to daydream
  • Nervousness or tearfulness
  • Marked changes in regular habits or activities
  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Signs of intoxication, dilated or constricted pupils, or apparent hangovers
  • Poor or declining physical appearance, hygiene, and grooming
  • Hyperactivity or rapid, pressured speech
  • Extreme boredom, negativism, defensiveness, and secretiveness
  • Comments by others about alcohol or drug use
  • Erratic behavior, sudden mood swings, inappropriate anger, hostility, and irritability
  • Hyper-expansiveness or grandiosity
  • Withdrawal from others or loss of pleasure in everyday activities
  • Talk of suicide or harm to self or others

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Intervention (Approaching the Student)

Whenever there are indicators that a student is in distress, the situation is worth exploring.

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Imminent Threat of Harm/Life Endangering Situation

In a situation where there is an imminent threat of harm to self or to others (suicidal statements or suicide attempt, loss of consciousness, violent behavior or threats), it is imperative that immediate action be taken. It is of utmost importance to ensure the safety of the student or others. Call either VPD 615-32(2-2745) or dial 615-42(1-1911) immediately.

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Urgent: No Imminent Threat of Harm

Substance abuse, eating disorders, or verbal abuse require intervention because of the potential for future harm. You may need to be persistent in conveying your concern. Concerned individuals may call the Psychological and Counseling Center at 615-32(2-2571) for advice and consultation.

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Distress: Non-urgent or Minimally Disruptive Behavior
  • Elicit feedback and support regarding your concerns. (See list of Student Welfare Liaisons, above.)
  • If you decide to express your concern to the student:
    • Choose a place where you may talk quietly without interruption, at a time convenient for both of you.
    • Be honest and focus on the specific signs that alerted you to a possible problem.
    • Remain calm, compassionate, and willing to listen.
    • Convey your willingness to help.
    • Be aware that the student could respond in a variety of ways. Don’t interpret negative, indifferent, or hostile responses as a wasted effort. A decision to seek help often takes time.
    • Sometimes fear gets in the way of the student’s willingness to accept assistance. Acknowledging possible reservations may help overcome this barrier.
    • Provide the student with the phone number of the Psychological Counseling Center, Student Health, Religious Life, or the Dean of Students.
    • Reiterate that the services are free and confidential.
    • If appropriate, ask for an agreement to make an appointment by a certain date. It may be helpful to ask the student later if he or she has followed through on a referral you made.
    • Keep communication open by telling the student you are always willing to listen.
    • Occasionally, it may be helpful to assist a student with making a contact.
    • Be mindful that students may view referral as rejection.

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Making Referrals

  • When there is an opportunity to do so, encourage the student to select a service from among available referral resources at the time of his or her discussion with you.
  • Be particularly sensitive to possible feelings of rejection that may arise in a student who is being referred. After referral, give the student ways to continue your previous relationship so that he or she does not perceive the referral was made to end your relationship.
  • Always ask if the student has any hesitation or doubts about accepting your referral advice. Make certain that such doubts are expressed and discussed.
  • Always explain why you believe the referral is necessary and why you have chosen the referral source (s) that you have. Be honest, if you believe that a student’s difficulty is beyond your capabilities or time to help, say so. To avoid the issue or to masquerade increases the possibility that the student will feel rejected or that his or her problem is too serious or unusual for help.
  • Refer the student, follow up and show continued interest. Ask questions such as “Did it work out?” or “Did I give you the correct information?” However, do not delve into the student’s relationship with person to whom you have referred him or her, attempt to “second guess” that person, or pursue details.
  • Try to have names, addresses, and numbers of common referral sources ready in advance so that you can provide full information to students.

Education and Training Resources for Faculty & Staff

Online resource provides access 24/7 from computers with internet connections.

  • At Risk: Identifying and Referring Students in Mental Distress is an online interactive program that engages learners in simulated conversations with virtual, fully animated students who show signs of depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide. This unique feature provides faculty and staff with practice that is essential to increasing their confidence and ability to identify and refer students. To access this program go to http://www.kognitocampus.com/faculty and complete new user information or login as an existing user if you have already an account.  The enrollment key is vanderbilt70.


MAPS (Mental Health Awareness and Prevention of Suicide) training is available through the Vanderbilt Psychological and Counseling Center (PCC). Please visit their website at www.vanderbilt.edu/pcc/ for additional information.

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Additional Resources and Services

Vanderbilt Police Department (VPD)
615 -32(2-2745)

Office of Religious Life

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI) Life

Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center

Vanderbilt Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Disability Services
Phone 615-32(2-4705)

  • Accommodations for Students with Disabilities 615-32(2-4705)

Vanderbilt Medical Center

  • Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital “Respond”
    Phone 615-32(7-7000)
  • VUMC Emergency Department
    Phone 615-32(2-3391)

Nashville Crisis Hot Line

Office of Student Health and Wellness
2525 West End, Suite 400
(615) 322-0480 (phone)
(615) 322-2728  (fax)
Office Hours: 7:30am – 4:30pm, M-F
Email: healthydores@vanderbilt.edu
Keith G. Meador, M.D., M.PH. Associate Dean
Christiana M. Russell, Ph.D.,  Director
Katherine S. Drotos, Coordinator

Health and Wellness Staff

Keith G. Meador, M.D., MPH
Associate Dean, Student Health and Wellness

Christiana M. Russell, Ph.D.
Director, Student Health and Wellness

Katherine S. Drotos Cuthbert
Coordinator, Wellness Programs & Alcohol Education

Helpful Links