The Red Folder initiative is a guide to help faculty, staff, and others who interact with students to recognize, respond effectively to, and refer distressed students at Penn State.
Common indicators are listed throughout this site. Students may present with indicators not listed.
Each situation is unique. Use the tips and listed pointers to determine the most appropriate response.
Refer the student
Review the various options to help you determine what the appropriate next step would be in helping a distressed and/ore disruptive student.
Find the right resources
Browse a list of the emergency, urgent, and additional resources specific to each campus on the campus resources page.
Indicators of Distressed Students
Be on the lookout for groupings, frequency, and severity of behaviors, not just isolated symptoms.
- Sudden decline in quality of work and grades
- Frequently missed classes and assignments
- Disturbing content in writing or presentations
- Classroom disruptions
- Consistently seeking personal rather than professional advice
- Multiple requests for extensions/special considerations (a change from prior functioning)
- Doesn’t respond to repeated requests for contact/meetings
- Marked changes in physical appearance (e.g., poor grooming/hygiene or sudden weight loss/gain)
- Strange or bizarre behavior indicating loss of contact with reality
- Visibly intoxicated or smelling of alcohol or marijuana
- Rapid speech or manic behavior
- Depressed or lethargic mood or functioning
- Observable sings of injury (e.g., facial bruising or cuts)
- Self-disclosure of personal distress (e.g., family problems. financial difficulties, assault, discrimination, legal difficulties)
- Unusual/disproportionate emotional response to events
- Excessive tearfulness, panic reactions
- Verbal abuse (e.g., taunting, badgering, intimidation)
- Expressions of concern about the student by peers
- Verbal, written, or implied references to suicide, homicide, assault or self-injurious behaviors
- Unprovoked anger or hostility/physical violence (e.g., shoving, grabbing, assaulting, use of weapon)
- Academic assignments dominated by themes of extreme hopelessness, helplessness, isolation, rage, despair, violence, self-injury
- Stalking or harassing
- Communicating threats/disturbing comments via email, correspondence, texting or phone call
Use these important tips to determine the most appropriate response for a distressed student.
– Stay Safe
Call police services at your campus or 911 if there is an imminent danger to the student, you, or anyone else.
– Stay Calm
Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself. Use a calm voice when talking and asking questions.
– Take Your Time
If this is NOT an imminently dangerous situation, take time to think through what might be the most helpful next step.
– Seek Consultation
You are not alone. Ask those around you for help. Consult with a colleague or call another office on your campus.
– Use Active Listening
Make eye contact and give your full attention. Restate what the student says to make sure you understand what is causing the distress and/or what they are asking for help with.
– Ask Direct Questions
Don’t be afraid to directly ask the student if they are having thoughts of harming themselves or others (by asking, you are not instilling the thought).
– Give Concrete Help
Help get them to the next step (e.g., contact the academic advisor with the student to make an appointment; help them call CAPS to schedule an appointment).
In addition to referring a student to resources, any sexual or gender-based harassment or assault requires mandated reporting. For questions regarding mandated reporting, please contact the Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response at 814-867-0099.
Choose from the options below to determine who to contact when you are concerned about a student who is distressed and/or disruptive. Please visit the campus resources page to find all of the resources associated with your campus.
Is the student a danger to themselves/others OR does the student need some other assistance?
The student’s conduct is clearly dangerous or threatening, including self-harm or harm to others. – Call 911 or Penn State Police at 814-863-1111.
I am not concerned for anyone’s immediate safety, but the student is having significant academic and/or personal issues and could use some support. – Refer student to campus resources, as appropriate.
The student is with me currently and show signs of distress, but it is not clear how serious it is. I feel uneasy and/or really concerned about the student. – Call the Counseling & Psychological Services for your campus.
The student is with me currently and shows signs of distress, but it is not clear how serious it is. I feel uneasy and/or really concerned about the student – Call Counseling and Psychological Services between 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. at your campus. If after 5 p.m. or a weekend, please call the Penn State Crisis Line at 1-877-229-6400.
The student is not with me currently, but I am concerned about what they said (in an email/call) OR what they did (acted bizarrely, were aggressive/disruptive) OR how they looked (unkept, unwashed, or as if drugged/drunk). – Call Student Care and Advocacy, or report to Behavior Threat Management Team at your campus.
A list of the emergency, urgent, and additional resources specific to each campus can be found by clicking the Campus Resources tab at the top of the page and then choosing which campus you are looking for.