Addressing Mental Health

This page is designed to inform instructors on how to help students who are struggling with their mental health. While not comprehensive, we hope these resources are helpful, and we encourage instructors to reach out to KU Counseling and Psychological Services for more information on student psychological wellness. 

Return to Teaching Resources

Videos: Students in Distress (Part 1 & 2)

In the videos above, Jody Brook and Christian Vargas discuss how faculty can assist students in a mental health situation. They also provide an overview of CAPS and how to submit a referral. Part II discusses specifically the rise in mental health cases at universities and the resources available for students.

To recognize a student in distress, instructors can take the following actions:

  1. Observe: Hygiene, missing class, changes in behavior, academic performance, activity, written work, falling asleep in class—anything that marks a change in the student.

  2. Ask: In a private setting, ask the student if everything is going OK. It is OK to say that you notice that they seem to be struggling lately and you are wondering if they are getting the support that they need?

  3. Refer: Keep the phone numbers handy for referrals and make them when indicated. It’s OK to call with the student in your office, it’s OK to walk a student down to the Psychological Counseling Center if you believe that is warranted.

  4. Check-in: After you have initiated a conversation, or made a referral, it is important that you check in with the student to see how they are doing. Showing care and concern is not a “one and done” activity. It does not need to be extensive e.g. “Hi, Kevin, you seem to be doing better—I hope things are going OK with you.” There is no need to re-open the case; you just need to show you care. Make eye contact, display care, and show the student that you are concerned about their overall well-being.

KU Student Affairs classifies the following as signs of concerns that faculty may note in the classroom:

  • A significant change in appearance (poor hygiene, weight gain/loss) or personality
  • A substantial drop in academic performance
  • Distracted or preoccupied thought processes
  • Withdrawal from social interactions with peers, family, and significant others
  • Frequent class absences
  • Expressions of loneliness or fear, such as avoidance or apprehension about being alone, and
  • Occurrence of a recent loss or other crisis (e.g., relationship breakup, death of a friend or family member, academic failure, physical illness, sexual violence)
  • Expressions of hopelessness (statements such as "there's no use trying" or "what's the point?")
  • Indirect statements or written essays about death or suicide
  • Emotions (sadness, nervousness, fearfulness, etc.) that are displayed to an extreme degree or for a prolonged period of time.
  • Extreme anger or hostility
  • Lengthy, ranting or threatening communication with staff, faculty, or peers

Brook suggests that instructors in the classroom or field might also note:

  • Changes in written performance;
  • Content of written work may take on a different tone, or become outright disturbing;
  • Student may withdraw from group based activities in the classroom;
  • Group assignments may pose difficulty, and fellow group members may experience the student’s behavior as concerning.

If you are concerned about a student, it is okay to call KU CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) and submit a “Care Referral." In addition to providing consultations with students, CAPS can also counsel students on alcohol/drug abuse, suicide prevention, eating disorders, and other topics that impact student mental, physical, and emotional health.

Please note that if a student at any time expresses an intention to harm themselves or others, call 911 immediately.

"College Students (and Their Parents) Face a Mental Health ‘Epidemic’by Terry Gross, Fresh Air

"Campuses Are Short on Mental-Health Counselors. But They’ve Got Plenty of Antidepressantsby Lily Jackson, The Chronicle of Higher Education

"How to Help a Student in a Mental Health Crisis" by David Gooblar, The Chronicle of Higher Education