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Helping the Distressed Student

Most students come to CAPS for help on their own, but sometimes they come as a result of the recommendation of a friend, roommate, faculty, or staff who has suggested it to them at some point.

You as faculty and staff have the opportunity to observe students while they are engaging in campus life, eating meals, studying, socializing, and taking care of academic or personal business. You may also observe students' performance on written and creative work. Students may come to you for help or advice. Or they may even mention that they are struggling.

Common concerns of students in distress include – but are not limited to – worries about their academic performance, finances, or the future; their families at home, romantic partners, friends, or roommates; and how to manage food, time, money, socializing, etc. They may be having symptoms related to a mood disorder, chemical dependency, or a traumatic event. Students' distress will become observable to you when they tell you, a friend of theirs tells you, or when it affects their day-to-day functioning.


Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) can help in two ways: offer help to you in approaching the student, and (2) offer services to the student. As part of the University's mission to address the needs of the whole person, we are here to help students solve developmental or personal problems in order to get all they can from their college experience.

CAPS offers up to ten sessions per academic year of confidential psychotherapy for students as well as assessment and referral for alumni. Depending on demand, we also may offer groups on relationships, stress reduction, eating and weight concerns, chemical dependency, and support for various other issues. We also provide workshops and presentations for the campus community.

You can ask the student to call us, come in or go online to make an appointment during our regular office hours (Monday-Friday, 8:30am-5:00pm). We are located in the Cowell Building. You can call us while the student is in your office to be sure that the student makes an appointment. Our phone number is 408-554-4501.

If you feel the situation is a crisis, you can walk the student over to the Cowell Center to be seen by a crisis counselor.

If you are wondering about how to address the issue, feel free to call the staff at CAPS. Faculty and staff have consulted with our staff to answer specific questions, to be a sounding board for developing a plan of how to approach a student, and even to come speak to a residence hall or other group about an issue when it is relevant.

Talking with the CAPS staff can clarify your concerns and help you decide what to do in specific cases. In general, faculty and staff feel positively about addressing their concerns with a student, even when the student does not respond by getting help. While this can raise feelings of frustration or helplessness, most times faculty and staff feel that at least they have voiced their concerns, which is what is in their power to do. And the benefit of their conversation may not be realized until later.

CAPS does not release information about who is or has been seen to anyone within the University unless client gives written permission. This means that under most circumstances -- in order to find out whether a student has followed through with a referral -- you will have to ask the student and there will be times you will not know what happened as a result of your conversation. The CAPS staff understands this dilemma for faculty and staff who refer.

If the student you are worried about is uncomfortable using our on-campus resources, you can also call us to get a list of community resources to offer the student.

If a student is a threat to self or another person and there is imminent danger of harm, call the following:

Call us if the student is in some other kind of crisis and you would like some help. After business hours, call Campus Safety and/or the student's Resident Director and have them call the CAPS After Hours Counselor-On-Call.  The Rape Crisis Hotline (408-287-3000) may also be helpful.

We can help you with how to approach the person with your concerns. The University offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides assessment and referral services. Contact Human Resources (408-554-4392) to obtain information on who is the current EAP carrier.

If you are willing, convey your ongoing interest in the person's situation. Sometimes – and perhaps usually – the decision to seek counseling is made over time. You may have a series of conversations and observe the person work through initial resistance to the point of being willing to get help.

Whatever assistance you may need from CAPS – whether it is to find out more about a particular disorder, brainstorm how to talk to a student, or just feel less alone in a complicated situation – we are here to help.