Responding to Peers in Distress

As constituents of the Adams State community, you are often be among the first to notice when other students are experiencing distress. Students may openly disclose problems to you as friend, peer, or even stranger, or you may recognize signs of distress. You can play a vital and proactive role in helping students by responding with interest and concern, and providing them with access to support and assistance.

If a student is having difficulty, but is able to cope, you may choose to limit your interaction to what makes sense for the existing relationship between you and the person. If you judge the situation to be more urgent, you may decide to refer the student to other support services on campus. This is what we are outlining here.

Critical Events

  • A critical event may involve a student affected by acute mental health and/or acute distress with danger of harm or harm to others.
  • The first point of contact in a critical incident is 911 or Adams State Campus Security: 719-589-7901

What is a “critical event?” This is any actual or alleged event or situation that creates a significant risk of substantial or serious harm to the physical or mental health, safety or wellbeing of a person. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • Mental health crisis/Acute Distress
  • Suicide or Homicide thoughts or behaviors
  • Eating Disorder behaviors
  • Incapacitating Drug and Alcohol use
  • Physical injury

Critical Event Action Steps

In Case of Emergency (Danger of Harm) Mental Health/ Acute Distress:

  • Get back up support. Let someone else know your concerns. Avoid leaving the distressed person alone; ask a colleague to stay with them even if you only have to leave for a small period of time.
  • Try to make the person in distress safe. If possible keep them away from windows, staircases, balconies, dangerous objects or chemicals.
  • If the student lives on campus, contact the Residence Director On-Call, or the student’s Resident Advisor.
  • Contact Adams State Police Department if the student lives on campus or the incident occurs on campus; where possible, get someone else to make the call. This leaves you free to focus on the needs of the person who needs assistance. The Adams State PD will coordinate an appropriate response to the situation. They will also be able to provide backup support to keep everyone as safe as possible.
  • Contact Alamosa Police Department 719-589-2548 if the student does not live on campus or the incident occurs off-campus. If you are in a different town, you would call the town PD.

In Case of Medical Emergency

  • Get backup support. Get someone else to call the Adams State PD or 911
  • Request an immediate call for medical assistance or an ambulance
  • Use appropriate first aid strategies. Check to see if there is a need for specific first aid (e.g. clearing of airways)

Students with Signs of Depression

Low mood is part of a natural emotional and physical response to life’s ups and downs. Given the busy and demanding life of a university student, it is expected that many students will go through periods of reactive or situational depression during their university career.

Major depression, however, is not just a passing mood. People with depression may not be able to “pull themselves together” and this can often interfere with their ability to function normally. Without treatment or support, major depression can last for weeks, months or years.

What to Look Out For

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or activities that were once enjoyable
  • Appetite and/or weight loss, or overeating and weight gain
  • Decrease in energy and fatigue
  • Thoughts of/mention of death or suicide (verbally or in writing assignments)
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Inconsistent class attendance
  • Decline in personal hygiene
Students experiencing depression often respond well to small amounts of attention for a short of period of time.

Helpful to:

  • Let the student know you’re aware that they are feeling and you would like to help
  • Encourage the student to discuss how they are feeling
  • Offer options to further investigate/manage the symptoms of depression
  • Encourage them to seek help, suggest counseling or that they get in touch with their doctor
  • Report any remarks about suicide to Adams State Counseling Center: 719-587-7746 and submit a Person of Concern Form – Link to Concern Form
  • This form will go to a member of the Adams State Counseling Center and a therapist will reach out to the student to assist at the appropriate level of care needed.

Not Helpful to:

  • Minimize the student’s feelings (e.g. “It will be better tomorrow”)
  • Bombard the student with quick fix solutions
  • Be afraid to ask whether the student is suicidal if you think that they may be. Evidence has shown that asking about suicide will not increase the risk of suicide

Students with Signs of Anxiety

While everyone can feel anxious from time to time, some people experience these feelings so strongly and often that it can affect their day-to-day lives. For some students, the cause of their anxiety is clear, however others may find it difficult to determine the exact cause of their anxiety. Often, anxiety among students is a result of academic competition, or fear of inadequacy. It can also stem from problematic relationships.

What to Look Out For

  • Inattention
  • Over or under-reaction to stimuli
  • Restlessness
  • Perfectionism
  • Signs of physical discomfort
  • Sweating, trembling, or shaking

Helpful to:

  • Stay calm and talk slowly; ask them if they have had symptoms like this before
  • Let them know they are not being judged
  • Let them discuss their feelings and thoughts
  • Provide reassurance
  • Be clear and directive
  • Provide a safe and quiet environment
  • Encourage them to seek help, suggest counseling or that they get in touch with their doctor

Not helpful to:

  • Pressure them to relax or “calm down”
  • Minimize the perceived threat to which the student is reacting
  • Take responsibility over their emotional state
  • Overwhelm them with ways to fix their condition
  • Pressure them to manage their feelings with alcohol or drugs

Students with Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

It is not uncommon for students to engage in some degree of suicidal thinking. As a member of the Adams State community, you may be in contact with students who have expressed suicidal thoughts to you, either directly in person, or indirectly through submitted papers.  It is important that these comments or allusions are not overlooked, as the student may be trying to reach out to you. 

What to Look Out For

A combination of:

  • Decreased concentration
  • Poor self-care
  • Crying spells
  • Preoccupation with death and dying
  • Expressions of hopelessness about the future
  • Inability to experience pleasure
  • Substance abuse
  • Apathy
  • Low self-esteem and giving away possessions

Along with verbal clues, or messages found in assignments, emails, blogs and Facebook, such as:

  • “I’m going to kill myself”
  • “I wish I was dead”
  • “I just can’t go on any longer”
  • “Nobody needs me anymore”
  • “You won’t be seeing me around anymore”
  • “Everyone would be better off without me”
  • “I want to go to sleep and not wake up”

Please note that the above are much more explicit invitations to ask about suicide. Many students will not verbalize things that are so obvious, but might say things like:

  •  “It doesn’t matter anyway”
  • “I don’t care about anything anymore”
  • “Who cares?”
  • “It will be fine, I know how to take care of this”
  • “I just don’t see the purpose”
  • “I don’t want to do this anymore”

Helpful to:

  • Talk about suicide openly and directly. Don’t be afraid to ask about suicidal thoughts, EVEN IF there are no obvious verbalizations. Asking and receiving a “no” will leave you feeling more comfortable about the interaction. If the student says “yes,” then you have established yourself as a trusted person and can help the student receive assistance.
  • Take charge and call/walk student to Adams State Counseling Center (RH 3-100) or call the SLVBHG Emergency Services team: 719-589-3671 if after hours (after 5 p.m.)
  • LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN. Avoid advice-giving
  • Sound calm and understanding
  • Be confident and caring

Not helpful to:

  • Sound shocked by what the student is telling you
  • Emphasize how much shock and embarrassment the suicide will bring to the person’s friends and family
  • Ignore the invitations that students is giving you
  • Engage in philosophical or religious debate on the moral aspects of suicide

What is next?

Step 1. Suggest Support Options

Make it clear that you are recommending the chosen support (e.g., counseling) because you are concerned.  Be specific regarding the signs of distress that have raised your concerns, and avoid attributing anything negative to the individual’s character. Use a caring approach, perhaps, “I won’t risk your health and safety; I care about you.”

The following points may encourage a student to seek help at the Adams State Counseling Center:

  • Inform the student that the services are free and confidential
  • Provide students with a brochure, phone number, or Adams State Counseling website address
  • Walk with the student to the counseling office or offer to make or even attend a first appointment with them, if the student believes this would be helpful

Step 2. Making an Appointment

If the student has agreed that counseling might be useful, several steps can be taken depending on the urgency of the situation:

  • You may offer the student information on how to contact Adams State Counseling Center, or assist them with making an appointment over the phone.
  • If the matter is urgent, indicate this when contacting the counseling office, so that a counselor can be made available
  • Be ready to provide some background on your specific concerns to assist with the referral process
  • If deemed appropriate, or necessary, or desired by the student, accompany the student to our office

It is also beneficial to let the student know that you will talk with them again, and that you are interested in their well-being.

Step 3. If a Student Declines Support Option 

Not all students will agree with your suggestion to seek counseling support, and it is important that the option to accept or refuse counseling must be left open. At the end of the day, the decision to seek help rests with the student. If the student is reluctant for any reason, simply express your acceptance of those feelings, but reiterate your concern and care. Again, if there is an imminent threat, you must contact someone regardless of the wishes of the student.

If the matter is serious, and or need of urgent attention, contact Adams State Counseling Center at 719-587-7746 and ask to speak to a counselor immediately. When needed, our counselors can go out to a campus location for an intervention. In addition, you can call Adams State PD. If you believe that the student is in emergent risk to self or others, do your best to not leave that student alone. There is an exception if the student has a means to carry our harm to self or others in their possession. If you are in a place that is not safe (i.e there is a firearm in the rom), leave immediately. Another option is seeing if the student will leave WITH you, so that you can move to a safer location and engage additional support.

Keep in Mind…

  • Contacting a professor that is known by the student might not be the best first option, due to the professor being unable to address that situation (e.g. it is a weekend, they are out of town).
  • You are NOT responsible for ensuring that person’s safety in an ongoing basis. You are helping in that moment, and might be part of a safety plan moving forward; however, you are not the person who should be caring for them 24/7. This is not your job and leads to putting yourself at risk.
  • Do NOT keep it a secret if someone is having thoughts of suicide or suicide behavior. Suicide is not something to keep private.
  • Self-harm or cutting does not necessarily indicate a desire to die or kill oneself. That being said, make sure to ask directly and clearly about suicide.


  • “Are you thinking about suicide?”
  • “Are you considering killing yourself?”

Not Helpful

  • “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”
  • You aren’t thinking about doing something stupid/crazy, are you?”

Future Suggestions

  • You can always ask for guidance/support from the Adams State Counseling Center
  • SELF CARE! Make sure you are taking care of yourself, otherwise you won’t have the energy to care for others well.
  • Sign up to participate in an Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). These are facilitated approximately 4-6 times yearly. This is a two day workshop to help you become an alert caregiver to someone having thoughts of suicide and intervene appropriately.