Supporting Students in Crisis

Coaching Objectives

  • Respond to student crisis in a supportive, helpful, and appropriate manner
  • Refer and connect student to campus or local resources that will aid student in addressing their concern
  • Assist student in determining which campus entities to notify of their situation
  • Continue offering sustainable support

Student Objectives

  • Decide what action steps to take to respond to the crisis situation
  • Access/utilize relevant campus or local resources that will help and support them with their situation
  • Inform relevant school faculty or administrators about their situation and discuss its educational impact with them

Resources Included

Student Materials

  • None

Background

Students might experience crises during their time in college that have impacts for them both on a personal level and on their ability to persist in school. In this module, we are using the term ‘crisis’ to refer to immediate situations that disrupt a student’s typical equilibrium and produce significant emotional, mental, or physical distress. While there might be ongoing or structural factors that contribute to a crisis, this module is primarily focused on responding to a student’s urgent concerns. The following content covers general crisis-response recommendations, as well as additional information about specific crises that students might face (housing insecurity, food insecurity, interpersonal/domestic violence, and mental health crises).

Regardless of whether the crisis is a sudden event or part of a longer ongoing situation, it is important to be prepared to appropriately and effectively react to students’ concerns and provide support to them in those times. In order to best serve students that are experiencing a crisis, coaches should follow the 4R framework:

  1. Recognize: The first step in supporting a student in crisis is identifying there is a situation impacting the student to the point of significant emotional, mental, or physical distress. It is also important to differentiate a crisis from a more extreme situation like an emergency, or from other experiences that might be difficult for a student but are not crisis level— these different kinds of situations require different responses. Consult with your supervisor if you need support determining if you should respond to the student’s situation as a ‘crisis.’In some cases, a student might directly bring an issue to your attention by disclosing an issue or asking for your support. However, it is also important to be sensitive to indirect indications that students are experiencing a crisis, such as a sudden or extreme change in behavior, a significant drop in academic performance, or intense emotional or psychological distress. If you notice these or other indirect signs, be alert for any further indications that they are dealing with a crisis situation.
  2. Respond: When responding to a student in crisis, it is important to demonstrate that you are there to support them by listening to their experience, seeking understanding of their situation, and identifying ways that you can be there for them in that moment.We care about our students as people first, and their safety and well-being are top considerations in moments of crisis. While it is important to help the student navigate the impacts that a crisis can have on their personal and academic life, that begins only after we have expressed our care and concern for the well-being of the student and supported them in their immediate needs and concerns.
  3. Refer: Ultimately, the role of a coach is to support students as they persist through to graduation; you can do that most effectively and efficiently in crisis situations by connecting students to resources that are best suited to address their immediate and long term concerns. This process includes providing them information about available and appropriate resources, assisting them in accessing the resource(s) they choose to utilize, and providing ongoing support to the student as they navigate their situation.In your role as a coach you are not a designated counseling or social work professional and do not need to attempt the work of one. It is important to remember that professionals have access to different systems and resources through their positions that enable them to offer different kinds of support to students. Your support supplements the work of professionals, but it does not need to replace it.
  4. Report: If a student discloses to you that you they are experiencing a crisis or have demonstrated likely indications of a serious concern, it is important to consult with your supervisor right away to determine what is the appropriate course of action to take. While this module contains helpful information and guidelines, it is simply a jumping-off point for you and your supervisor to develop an individualized plan. All students and all crisis situations are unique, and it is necessary for you to consult with your supervisor about the specifics of each incidence as it arises so that we can make sure students are receiving the support that is best for them.

Ultimately it is up to the student themselves to decide how they want to proceed in a crisis situation. They are experts of their own lives and experiences. As their coach you can present them with information and resources and help them think through ideas and options, but it is the right and responsibility of the student to determine what is best for them personally.

Significance for College Possible Students

Navigating a crisis while in school can be difficult for all students, regardless of their socioeconomic background. However, as low-income and first-generation students, our students might not have access to or be familiar with all the support services and resources that exist at or near their school. Students that did not have many campus connections before starting their undergrad career may not yet have a strong support network at school that can help them with their situation. Additionally, students’ other support networks off campus might not be familiar with the resources or processes of the student’s school and school community. This difference in access to resources and support can lead to crisis situations having a disproportionately negative effect on our students’ ability to stay in school while dealing with a crisis issue.

When experiencing a crisis, students’ social identities may impact how comfortable they are reaching out to, and interacting with, support services. For example, a first-generation low-income student might be worried about revealing their housing or food insecurity at school for fear of being stigmatized for their economic status. Students may also be worried about how their family will react to them asking for support in a crisis situation, particularly if the crisis is of a sensitive nature or their family is not already supportive of their academic pursuits. Refer to the Coaching Resources section for research on how different communites are impacted by mental health issues differently. While students’ identities, communities, and experiences can influence how they react and respond to a crisis situation, they are among many other contributing factors that influence how a student might experience a crisis. It is important to keep the student’s personal situation in mind when discussing next steps so that together you can identify what options they are comfortable with and would work best for them.

UNDOCUMENTED STUDENT NOTE

Undocumented students may potentially encounter additional barriers when trying to access support in a crisis situation due to their lack of documentation. Similarly, they might also be more hesitant to pursue potential support options due to concerns that it might expose them to other difficulties. Help undocumented students connect with relevant experts for additional support.

Preparation

  • Review the content of this module and the information provided in the linked Coaching Resources.
  • Look into the kinds of support services available to students on your campus(es).

Vocabulary

Crisis, Food Insecurity, Housing Insecurity, Mental Health, Domestic Violence,
Multicultural Office, Advisor/Academic Advisor, Student Support Services (SSS)/TRiO Office, R.A. (Resident Assistant)/C.A (Community Advisor), Counseling Center

Campus Resources

  • Student Support Services
  • Counseling Center
  • Academic Advisor
  • Health Center
  • Dean of Students
  • Housing Services
  • Title IX Coordinator

Broad Outreach

The purpose of broad outreach on potential crisis topics is to share material and resources that might be useful to students who are experiencing a crisis, as well as to indicate to students that they can come to you for support.

Outreach Ideas and Examples

Put together a list of student support resources on your campus(es) and send it out to students with a note about all the people at their school that are there to support them. Let students know that you are also there for them, and would be happy to help them access those resources.

Identify national months/weeks/days dedicated to the awareness of different concerns students might experience, and share an article or link to a resource during that time.

Social Media: “October is National Emotional Wellness Month! Check out [this article] about strategies for promoting emotional health, and pick some to try. Interested in learning more about emotional health resources on your campus and in your area? Schedule a call with me and we can talk!”

Targeted Outreach

Targeted outreach for crisis situations will be limited to students who have disclosed to College Possible that they are experiencing a crisis. If you and your supervisor have already discussed the situation and have decided it is appropriate, targeted outreach might also be directed at students who have shown indications that they might be experiencing a crisis.

Additional Preparation

  • Review student notes in Salesforce to re-familiarize yourself with other aspects of the student’s current situation.
  • Research relevant local resources dedicated to student support. Examples include: campus offices, school personnel, student organizations, community-based organizations.

Differentiated Guidance

Food Insecurity

  • Food insecurity is not necessarily a static state. This might be a first time or short-term issue for some students, and a common experience for others. For students that are unaware of their immediate options, connect them with information about food shelves and food pantries in their area—some schools have campus locations, and some communities have mobile services.
  • For students who are concerned about long-term food security, direct students to more stable resources. In some states college students are eligible to receive benefits through government assistance programs—encourage students to look into the specific qualification criteria in their location.
  • Food insecurity can be a result of many different factors, and while financial reasons are common, we should not assume food insecurity can be addressed by money management. For example, food insecurity can be caused by inaccessibility for students who live in food deserts,
    or be a result of students prioritizing a fixed expense like their housing costs.

Housing Insecurity

  • Many schools have support services that can help students that are experiencing issues with both on-campus and off-campus housing. Encourage students to connect with student support and housing services at their school.
  • Students who are experiencing housing insecurity may not necessarily be “homeless”—they might have a place to stay for the time being, just not a ‘secure’ place.
  • Students might not necessarily want to change their housing status at the moment, but instead might want assistance handling administrative or logistical issues that arise due to not having a permanent address.
  • Housing insecurity can sometimes occur following other crisis experiences—if this is the case for your student, you should also assist them in connecting with additional relevant resources for their situation.

Domestic/Interpersonal Violence

  • Disclosing experiences with violence can often be emotionally difficult for students. Remember to prioritize the student’s feelings, listen without judgment and without asking invasive questions, and avoid commenting on the student’s experience or how they are responding to it.
  • Many schools have ‘mandatory reporting’ policies that require faculty to notify police and/or a campus office if a member of the school community discloses an experience with domestic or sexual violence. Encourage students to look into their school policies and take them into account when deciding where to seek support and resources.

Mental Health

  • Many students internalize stigmas about mental health that make it difficult for them to acknowledge their experience or seek support (both socially and from professionals). Validate their feelings and express your support, and offer to help them reach out to another resource.
  • It is important to differentiate between a student’s ongoing mental health concerns and moments of particular crisis, and respond to each appropriately. A student in a crisis situation needs to be connected with crisis-reponse resources instead of more general treatment or support resources.
  • Mental health crises can sometimes occur following other crisis experiences—when working with students on other crisis issues, it can be helpful to check-in about their mental health as well.
  • As their coach, it is not necessary to try and determine specifics of the student’s mental health concerns or recommend particular courses of action. Instead, encourage students to utilize professional mental-health resources equipped to do so.

Outreach Ideas and Examples

Text Message: “That sounds like a difficult situation, I am sorry to hear that you have been dealing with that. Is there anything I can do to support you during this time? I would be happy to help connect you with someone from the counseling center if you are interested.”

Direct Message: “You said that there is a lot going on right now, and it seems like you are pretty worried about your housing situation. If you want, we can focus on that and come up with some ideas for addressing it and make a plan to get things taken care of. How does that sound?”

Coaching Session

As coaches it is important to recognize what your capacity, role, and boundaries are when supporting students during a crisis. Your time, energy, and resources are limited, making it necessary to make decisions about what kind and what amount of support you can personally offer a student while still meeting the needs of others in your portfolio. Do not overcommit to a student—it is better to follow through on a realistic offer than fall short of a promised but unattainable one.

Key Messages

  • It is important to listen to the student and let them share their perspective first before turning the conversation to next steps and resources.
  • When discussing the student’s experience, it is important to respond sensitively, reserve judgment, and follow the student’s lead—avoid labeling their experience unless the student does so themselves, and pay attention to their comfort level when discussing the topic.
  • Be mindful of the kinds of questions you ask students about their situations–recognize that students might be uncomfortable with questions that they interpret as invasive or judgmental.
  • Ultimately it is up to students to decide what next steps they want to take, but we can assist them in exploring options.
  • In reality, many crises involve intersecting issues and there are many possible combinations of support resources that students can access to address their various needs.  It is important to help students prioritize services that they think will be most beneficial first, and then help them determine from there what additional services they might consider connecting with to form a more thorough network of support.

Questions for Students to Consider

  • What support do you have in addressing this situation? What additional support would benefit you?
  • What resources have you accessed/utilized? What resources have you not accessed?
  • What action(s) do you feel comfortable taking in response to this situation at the moment? What action(s) would you feel uncomfortable taking?
  • In what ways is this impacting your ability to succeed and persist in school? If there are negative impacts, what would help reduce them?
  • Who have you talked to at your institution about the impact this is having on your schooling? Who have you not yet talked to that you might benefit from talking to?

Coaching Resources

Unmet Needs in Mental Health Services

Advising Students in Crisis: 7 Approaches to Maximize Advisors' Effectiveness

National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) on Diverse Communities

Comprehensive source of local social services

Wrap-up

Looking Ahead

Other modules you may want to reference and consider when working with your student include:

Documentation

Update the student record in Salesforce, including notes and follow-up items from your conversation.

Update your supervisor about the situation and discuss any additional next steps.

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