Last update: January 27, 2020

Everyone plays an important role in supporting student mental health and wellbeing.

Use this guide to familiarize yourself with common signs of distress and the steps you can take to offer assistance.

On this page:

The basics

If you have immediate safety concerns for yourself or others

Call 9.1.1 and Campus Security
First, call Emergency Services: 9.1.1
Then, call Campus Security: 604.822.2222

Assisting students in distress involves three basic principles: 

Recognize signs of distress

You may be the first person to see signs that a student is in distress, or they may come to you specifically for help. Use this guide to familiarze yourself with common signs of distress, from mild to severe, and the steps you can take to offer assistance.

Reach out and refer

Your role is not to diagnose or treat students, but you are in a position to make them aware of the help available. Early intervention plays a key role in helping students get back on track.

Access expert advice when needed

There may be times when you need more advice about how to support a student in distress. For more severe and urgent concerns, you can consult with:

1. UBC Student Health Service 604.822.7011

2. UBC Counselling Services 604.822.3811

Please identify yourself as a faculty member who would like to consult about a student in distress

Are you a student concerned about another student?

Find out how you can help your classmate or friend:



Having a conversation with a student in distress: 5 steps for faculty and staff

Step 1: If you're reaching out to the student

  • Be specific about the signs and behaviours you’ve noticed

    • Ex: "I've noticed you've missed the last two midterms."

  • Express your concern

    • Ex: "I am concerned and wanted to check in to see how you're doing."

  • Reassure the student that reaching out to students who may be struggling is something all UBC faculty and staff do to help

If a student doesn't want help

  • Respect their decision. Accepting or refusing assistance must be left up to the student, except in emergencies

  • Don’t force the issue or pressure them into going to a referred resource

  • Try to leave room for reconsideration later on

    • Ex: "If you change your mind you can always access the resources I've provided to you."

Step 2: Respond with empathy and normalize stress

  • Listen actively and help the student feel heard and understood
    • Ex: "It sounds like you're facing some difficulties in your life right now."
  • Where stress seems related to academic pressures, acknowledge that stress is a normal part of the university experience

Step 3: Ask open-ended questions

Giving students an opportunity to talk often has a calming effect and helps to clarify their concerns

  • "What have you tried so far?"
  • "What do you think the main challenge is?"
  • "Do you have the support that you need?"

Step 4: Discuss resource options

  • Point out that help is available; while seeking help can feel difficult at first, it is a sign of strength
  • Provide the student with information about resources and supports (see below)
  • Encourage the student to identify the next steps they plan to take
    Steps to take: Vancouver campus How to respond: Okanagan campus  

Imminent risk of harm

  • Active thoughts of suicide with a plan or suicide attempt
  • Behaviour that is violent, destructive, aggressive, or threatening to self or others

  • Student is confused, hallucinating, or has trouble remaining conscious

  1. Student to go to nearest hospital
    Call 911

  2. Call UBC Campus Security

  3. Enter an Early Alert concern
    Monitored 7 days/ week

Call 911 and Campus Security

First, call Emergency Services: 911

Then, call Campus Security:

    Resources and supports: Vancouver campus How to respond: Okanagan campus

High level of distress


  • Deterioration in personal appearance and hygiene and significant impairment with daily tasks
  • Expressions of severe hopelessness or references to suicide
  • Self-harm behaviour such as recent cutting or hitting, severely restricted eating with weight loss/severe binge eating
  • Substance use concerns
  • Loss of touch with reality/ severely disorganized thinking
  • Physical health concerns
During office hours
After-hours or in an emergency

Contact Health and Wellness

First, call Health and Wellness and request a same-day urgent appointment for the student, and/or request to consult with a counsellor:

Then, encourage the student to go directly to Health and Wellness.


Call Campus Security:
250.807.8111, or

Contact the Crisis Line
1.888.353.CARE (1.888.353.2273)

    Resources and supports: Vancouver campus How to respond: Okanagan campus

All other mental health concerns


  • Low or irritable mood with change in energy, appetite, sleep, and/or concentration, which is impacting daily functioning

  • Persistent worry, obsessions, agitation, irrationality, racing thoughts, panic attacks

  • Flashbacks to a traumatic event, intrusive memories and thoughts

  • Interpersonal conflict

  • Lack of social support

  • Disordered eating

During office hours
  • Counselling Services
    Room 1040, Brock Hall
    Drop-in for Wellness Advising (assessment, wellness planning, and referral to the most appropriate level of support) or Drop-in Counselling (single session, goals/strengths-based)
After-hours or anytime
  • Empower Me
    1.844.741.6389 (toll free, 24 hours, multilingual) 
    Free counselling sessions delivered in person, by telephone, video, or e-counselling
  • Medimap BC
    See available walk-in clinics and wait times, ansd book an appointment before visiting the location
  • Mind Health BC
    Take an online mental health assessment and find resources
  • First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Helpline
    Health Link BC 
    Call 811 or visit the website to check physical health symptoms and find resources

Connect the student to support

Mental health concerns and/or difficulties coping

Health and Wellness

Primary health concerns (family doctor care)

Health and Wellness

Accommodations for disabilities, including chronic mental health condition

Disability Resource Centre

Academic, financial, or other concerns

Student Services & Financial Support:



Resources and supports: Vancouver campus  


General support


  • Stress about exams, deadlines, grades, roommates, relationships, finances, adjustment to university
  • Advice about healthy eating, sleep, or sexual health
During office hours
After-hours or anytime
  • Empower Me 1.844.741.6389 (toll free, 24 hours, multilingual) 
    Free counselling sessions delivered in person, by telephone, video, or e-counselling
    Find resources, tutorials, and helpful tips organized by topic

Unusual or particularly complex student concerns

For questions about concerns or student conduct not addressed on this page, contact:

Vancouver campus
Student Services
, Office of the Vice-President, Students

Okanagan campus
Health and Wellness, UBC Okanagan


Step 5: Use Early Alert

Always submit an Early Alert concern as part of your response, regardless of the perceived severity. Early Alert allows faculty, staff, and TAs to identify their concerns about students sooner and in a more coordinated way.

Submit an Early Alert concern

Early Alert:

  • Provides support for all students
  • Allows for earlier support before difficulties become overwhelming
  • Results in less time and fewer resources needed for students to recover
  • Collects concerns from different sources across campus, allowing for a better understanding of individual student needs and how to provide appropriate support in a coordinated way
  • Protects student privacy using a secure system
  • Is not connected to the student’s academic record

Early alert is not a reporting mechanism for sexual assault, and identifying a sexual assault through Early Alert could compromise a student’s right to privacy and create further stigma.

Sexual assault is a unique and complex experience. The University is implementing a survivor-centered approach that strives to empower a survivor to make their own choices about who they may disclose to, and their decisions to access support services or file a report.  If you submit an Early Alert please focus on any indicators (behaviors) of the concern without identifying the underlying reason (sexual assault) for the concern. This ensures that the student retains the choice as to how much information they wish to disclose and to whom. You can also connect the student directly to the Student Support Services Managers who oversee the early alerts.

Help a Survivor of Sexual Assault

Learn more about Early Alert

Early Alert training for faculty, staff, TAs, and advisors


Where students can go for help

Faculty and staff: Take care of your wellbeing

Taking care of your own wellbeing is important.

Resources for faculty and staff:

Healthy UBC Initiatives

Healthy UBC Initiatives are free, ongoing, university-wide programs, trainings, and educational opportunities that focus on promoting positive mental health and physical wellbeing for staff, faculty, and departments.

Healthy UBC Initiatives, Vancouver campus

Healthy UBC Initiatives, Okanagan campus

Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP)

Faculty, staff, and their family members can find support through the confidential UBC Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP):

Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP)


Download the green, blue or SVPRO folder (Vancouver and Okanagan)

Printable guides to helping students in distress:


Vancouver campus green folder: Assisting Students in Distress (11 x 17" tabloid, double-sided)


Okanagan campus blue folder: Assisting Students in Distress (11 x 17" tabloid, double-sided)


Vancouver campus SVPRO folder: Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence (11 x 17" tabloid, double-sided)


Okanagan campus SVPRO folderSupporting Survivors of Sexual Violence (11 x 17" tabloid, double-sided)

Questions, comments, or requests for copies of the Green or Blue Folders

Vancouver campus
Student Services, Office of the Vice-President, Students

Okanagan campus
Health and Wellness, UBC Okanagan