Students in distress

Good mental health is a key part of student wellness and success. One in four university and college-aged students will experience a mental health problem. Please know that there are things we all can do to help people in distress.

If you are experiencing distress, there are on-campus and community resources to support and help you. 

If a friend talks to you about feeling overwhelmed and isolated, or of being in emotional pain that is too great to bear, or wanting to harm themselves or end their lives, PLEASE don't ignore this. Listen and be supportive, and encourage them to talk to someone who can help.


Identifying and responding to students in distress

Situations requiring immediate referral/reporting

Regardless of the circumstances or context, ANY reference to wanting to die/suicide should be taken seriously and a mental health professional should be contacted.

Warning signs might include:

  • Expressed feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, or hopelessness;
  • Expressed thoughts that the world, their family and friends would
  • be better off without them;
  • Expressed feelings of powerful guilt or shame; 
  • Expressed desire to die by suicide.

Student Wellness Services (613) 533-2506

Queen’s 24 hr Emergency Report Centre (613) 533-6111 or 911

  • Any type of physical violence causing bodily harm (self or other);
  • Specific threats of violence or harm.

  • Incoherent or unintelligible;
  • Cannot be calmed.

  • Potential drug overdose;
  • Potential alcohol poisoning.

Queen’s 24 hr Emergency Report Centre at (613) 533-6111 or 911

Immediate options for safety and medical attention:

  • Call 911 or Queen’s 24 hour Emergency Report Centre at (613) 533-6111.
  • The Kingston Health Sciences Centre Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Program for medical care, STI and pregnancy prevention, and evidence collection.

Monday to Friday, 8:00 am to 4:00 pm only phone (613) 549-6666 ext. 4880 or go to KHSC/KGH site Emergency Department and ask for the Sexual Assault/ Domestic Violence nurse. After hours call (613) 548-3232, press “0” and ask for the SV/DV nurse. 

Campus Information and Supports

  • Barb Lotan, the Queen’s University Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator (SVPRC), provides support and information about roles and responsibilities related to disclosures, policy, counselling, reporting, and accommodation options.
    (613) 533-6330
    Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Services
  • Student Wellness Services (613) 533-2506

Situations requiring attention

Refer a student to faculty-based academic advisors for the following reported concerns:

  • Serious academic concerns;
  • Considering withdrawal;
  • In jeopardy of failing;
  • Changes in academic performance (deterioration in the quality of work, frequently missed assignments and classes, excessive procrastination, avoidance of participation);
  • Listlessness or falling asleep in class.

Refer a student to Student Wellness Services for the following reported behaviours:

  • Excessive dieting;
  • Desire to ‘burn off’ food intake;
  • Preoccupation with clean eating;
  • Uncontrolled binge eating;
  • Induced vomiting after eating.

Refer a student to Student Wellness Services for the following changes in regular behaviour:

  • Withdrawal from social interactions or academic work;
  • Notable changes in energy levels or appearance;
  • Unusual behaviour (unexplained crying, laughing to self, rapid speech, disorganized thinking, suspiciousness);
  • High levels of irritability;
  • Changes in relationships or social behaviour (withdrawal, isolation or dependency);
  • Significant weight loss or gain;
  • Physical symptoms (nausea, headaches, problems with eating, excessive or disrupted sleeping);
  • Changes in hygiene or dress.

Refer a student to Student Wellness Services for the following reported behaviours:

  • Difficulty communicating (difficulty forming thoughts, completing sentences, irrational conversations);
  • Distortions of reality;
  • Difficulty concentrating or communicating.

Refer a student to the Human Rights and Equity Office regarding concerns about harassment (persistent, unwanted behaviour including sexual harassment) or discrimination. (613) 533-6886

If the situation involves risk or threat of harm, call Queen’s 24 hr Emergency Report Centre. (613) 533-6111

What to do and say


  •  It is OK to ask and express concern
  • Be specific about the behaviour that worries you
  • Say what you see

"I noticed you've been absent from class lately. I'm concerned about you." 


  • Listen non-judgmentally, without bias, having an open world view
  • Meet in a private location, be patient and give your undivided attention

"What can I do to support you?"


  • Acknowledge their thoughts and feelings in a compassionate way
  • Offer hope and reassure them you are concerned and want to help

"It sounds like you're feeling out of place." 


  • Provide student with resources
  • Offer to make the call with the student


"If you’d like, we can book an appointment for you together."

Making a good referral

  • Point out that help is available and seeking help is a sign of strength and courage rather than weakness. Acknowledge that seeking help can be scary;
  • Research resources (see the Green Folder), contact Student Wellness Services for recommendations on how to approach the situation at ext. 32506;
  • If the student appears reluctant, you can help by:
    Offering to contact the resource on their behalf while they are in your office
    Offering to sit with the student while they make the initial contact themselves
    Accompanying the student, if appropriate and you feel comfortable
  • Provide the student with take-away materials and information (contact numbers, locations, etc.);
  • Offer to follow-up with the student, but don’t insist on knowing what the student has done.

If a student says "no" to a referral

  • Respect their decision. Accepting or refusing assistance must be left up to the student, except in emergencies, when life is in danger;
  • Don’t force the issue or trick them into going;
  • Try and leave the door open for later reconsideration.

"I respect your decision."

"I hope you will keep these options in mind."

"You can always come back and talk to me."

Want the information above in a printable format? 

Green Folder