College Mental Health Program Employee Guide

Assisting Emotionally Distressed Students:
Faculty and Staff Guide

What is the College Mental Health Program?

Regular contact with students at Saddleback College is typically pleasant and productive. However, on occasion we experience behavior that causes concern for us about a student’s well being. Various campus services are available to provide support for you and your students if situations of concern arise. This website is provided by the College Mental Health Program in response to your requests for recommendations and support in dealing with troubling student behavior on campus.

This website offers concrete advice and guidance on how to aid emotionally distressed students and how to refer them for on-campus help. Because of your daily interaction with students, you are in a unique position to recognize those who may be emotionally troubled. A student’s behavior, especially if it is inconsistent with your previous observations, might be a “cry for help.” Your ability to recognize the signs of emotional distress, coupled with your courage to acknowledge your concerns directly to the student, are often noted by students as the most significant factor in their successful problem resolution. Intervention and referrals from caring individuals may be the first steps in helping students regain their emotional health.

When to Immediately Call Police

  • You or another person is in immediate danger
  • You believe that a student is about to harm her/himself
  • A student is out of control and is disrupting the classroom.


Saddleback College Mental Health Team

Our college mental health program consists of licensed clinical psychologists, registered nurses, medical physicians, doctorate level interns, and professional counselors from the Student Health Center and Counseling Services. If you or someone you know is in need of help contact the Student Health Center at 949-582-4606 or general Counseling at 949-582-4572. If there is an immediate crisis contact campus police or the Crisis Intervention Hotline at 949-582-4357 (HELP).

Instructional Guides and Aids For Employees and Staff

Crisis Intervention

A psychological crisis is a life event that one perceives as stressful and during which normal coping mechanisms are insufficient. Most crisis situations that arise require immediate or same day attention. Students do not need a pre-scheduled appointment to see a counselor if they have an urgent, emergency situation. Such crisis situations may include, but are not limited to:Girl in distress

  • Extreme sadness or depression
  • Extreme panic or anxiety
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Thoughts of harming someone else
  • Death of a loved one, family member or friend
  • Experience of a traumatic event
  • Experience of odd, bizarre or intrusive thoughts

Never leave a student who is in crisis alone.

Use your classroom telephone to call one of the offices below for assistance. Or, if the student is safe, you may walk her/him to one of these offices and assist her/him in receiving crisis intervention counseling. When in doubt, err on the side of making a call for crisis intervention.

The Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) at Saddleback College is composed of professional counselors from the Student Health Center and the Division of Counseling and Special Programs. The CIT counselors are available to assist when a Saddleback College student or staff member experiences an on-campus emergency and is in need of immediate help.

If you or a student has a crisis situation, call the CIT at (949) 582-HELP (4357) the Student Health Center at (949) 582-4606 or General Counseling at(949) 582-4572.

If you are on campus and need assistance after CIT hours or on weekends,
call the Campus Police at (949) 582-4444 or *80 from any campus pay phone.

When not on campus, call 911 or have a trusted person take you to a local emergency room.

Signs of Distress

Here is a list of the most commonly observed signs of distress among students.  This list is not intended to be comprehensive.  You may occasionally meet students who have other behaviors that concern you.

  • Missed classes and assignments
  • Inability to concentrate and/or focus
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Persistent worrying
  • Social isolation
  • Increased irritability and/or anxiety
  • Restlessness or lethargy
  • Bizarre behavior
  • Procrastination
  • Dangerous behavior
  • Disheveled appearance
  • Mood swings
  • Indecisiveness
  • Under the influence of alcohol or drugs

Guidelines for Interacting with Distressed Students

Openly acknowledging to students that you are aware of their distress, that you are sincerely concerned about their welfare, and that you are willing to help them explore their alternatives, can have a profound effect. Sad GirlWe encourage you, whenever possible, to speak directly and honestly to students whenever you sense that they are experiencing academic or personal distress.

  1. Request to see the student in private.  A private conversation will minimize a student’s self-consciousness, embarrassment and defensiveness.
  2. Briefly acknowledge your observations and perceptions of the situation, expressing your concerns directly and honestly.
  3. Listen carefully to what is troubling the student.  Try to understand her/his issue from her/his point of view, without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing.
  4. Attempt to identify the student’s problem or concern, as well as your own concern or uneasiness.  You can also help by exploring alternatives to deal with the problem.
  5. Comment directly on what you have observed, without judging or interpreting.  Strange and inappropriate behavior should not be ignored.
  6. Involve yourself only as far as you want to go and are comfortable.  Remember, you are not expected to be a mental health expert!  At times, in an attempt to reach or help a troubled student, you may become more involved than time or skill permits.  Extending yourself to others always involves some risk - but it can be a gratifying experience when kept within realistic limits.

Identifying Students who Need Assistance

Individuals express their emotional distress in different ways.  In this section, you will find information describing different forms of emotional distress, as well as the symptoms of each.  This section of the website also offers you suggestions on what you might do to assist a student who is experiencing certain symptoms.


The Depressed Student

Depression, and the variety of ways it manifests itself, is part of a natural emotional and physical response to life’s ups and downs.  With the busy and demanding life of a college student, it is safe to assume that most students willDistressed Girl experience periods of depression in their college careers.  When the depressive symptoms become so extreme or are so enduring that they begin to interfere with the student’s ability to function in school, work or social environment, the student will come to your attention and be in need of assistance.

Students with depression often respond well to a small amount of attention for a short period of time. Early intervention increases the chances of the student’s rapid return to optimal performance.

There are several symptoms of depression.  Remember, a person does not have to exhibit all of these symptoms to meet the criteria for depression. Here are some of the indicators that you might observe:

  • Tearfulness or general emotionality
  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Markedly diminished academic performance
  • Significant lack of confidence or poor self-esteem
  • Problems with concentration and memory
  • Dependency (a student who makes excessive requests for your time)
  • Infrequent class attendance
  • Lack of energy or motivation; unusually fatigued
  • Increased test anxiety or performance anxiety
  • Deterioration in personal hygiene
  • Significant weight loss of gain
  • Signs of alcohol or drug use


  • Let the student know you are aware she/he is feeling down and you would like to help.
  • Encourage the student to discuss how she/he is feeling with someone they trust.
  • Offer to assist the student by referring her/him to the College Mental Health Program for personal counseling.


  • Minimize the student’s feeling (e.g., “Don’t worry.” “Everything will be better tomorrow.”)
  • Bombard the student with “fix it” solutions or advice.
  • Chastise the student for poor or incomplete work.
  • Be afraid to ask the student whether she/he is suicidal.

The Suicidal Student

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.  It is important to view all suicidal comments as serious and to make appropriate referrals.  High risk indicators include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, futility
  • A severe loss or threat of a loss
  • Feeling alienated or isolated
  • History of drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • History of mental illness
  • A previous suicide attempt
  • A suicide plan and the means to carry out that plan
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Writing about suicide or death (i.e., poetry, letters, journal)


  • Take the student seriously – 80% of people who complete suicide give a warning of their attempt.
  • Be direct – ask if the student is suicidal, if she/he has a suicide plan, if she/he has the means to carry out the plan.  These questions actually decrease a person’s impulse to carry through with their plan.
  • Be available to listen.
  • Activate the Crisis Intervention Team by contacting the Student Health Center (ext. 4606) or the Counseling & Special Programs office (ext. 4572).
  • Call the Campus Police at ext. 4444 if the threat of suicide is imminent.


  • Assure the student that you are her/his best friend; instead, agree that you are a stranger, but even strangers can be concerned.
  • Be overly warm and nurturing.
  • Flatter or participate in their “games” – remember, you don’t know their rules.
  • Be cute or humorous.
  • Challenge or agree with any mistaken or illogical beliefs.
  • Be ambiguous.

The Anxious Student

Anxiety is a normal response to a perceived danger or threat to one’s well being.  For some students the cause of their anxiety will be clear, but for others it is difficult to pinpoint.  Regardless of the cause, the following symptoms maybe experienced:

  • Rapid heart palpitations; chest pain or discomfort
  • Dizziness, sweating, trembling or shakiness
  • Sweating; cold, clammy hands
  • Difficulty concentrating; difficulty making decisions; mind going blank
  • Feeling “on edge”; restless; irritable
  • Sleep problems; easily fatigued
  • Excessive worrying

In some extreme cases, students may experience a panic attack in which the physical symptoms occur so spontaneously and intensely that the student may fear that she/he is dying.


  • Let the student discuss her/his thoughts and feelings.  Often this conversation alone relieves a great deal of pressure.
  • Provide reassurance.
  • Be clear and directive.
  • Provide a safe and quiet environment until the symptoms subside (refer student to Health Center SSC 177 for resting room).
  • Offer to assist the student with a referral for on-campus personal counseling.


  • Minimize the perceived threat to which the student is reacting.
  • Take responsibility for the student’s emotional state.
  • Overwhelm the student with information or ideas to “fix” her/his condition.

The Student in Poor Contact with Reality

These students have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality, the dream from the waking state.  They may frighten or alarm others because of their behaviors.  However, they are not generally dangerous and tend to be very frightened and overwhelmed.  In broad terms, their symptoms may include:

  • Illogical, confused or irrational thinking
  • Incongruent or inappropriate emotional responses
  • Bizarre, disturbing behavior
  • Seeing, hearing or feeling things that others do not see, hear or feel (hallucinations)
  • Elaborate reports of being persecuted, of being loved by another person, or of having a great but unrecognized talent or discovery (delusions)


  • Activate the Crisis Intervention Team by contacting Student Health Center (x. 4606), the Counseling & Special Programs office (x. 4572), or Campus Police (x. 4444)
  • Respond with warmth, kindness and firm reasoning.
  • Remove extra stimulation from the environment (e.g., turn off the radio, step outside of a noisy classroom).
  • Acknowledge your concerns, state that you can see that the student needs help.
  • Acknowledge the student’s feelings or fears without supporting the misperceptions (e.g., “I understand you think someone is following you, but I don’t see anyone and I believe you are safe.”).
  • Focus on the “here and now.”  Ask for specific information about the student’s awareness of time, place and destination.
  • Speak to their healthy side.  It is OK to laugh and joke when appropriate.


  • Argue to try to convince them of the irrationality of their thinking.  This commonly produces a stronger defense of their false perceptions.
  • Play along (e.g., “Oh yeah, I hear the voices, too.”).
  • Encourage further discussion of the delusional processes.
  • Demand, command, or order.
  • Expect customary emotional responses.

The Abusive and/or Violent Student

Students who become abusive and/or violent are often in frustrating situations that they see as beyond their control.  Their anger and frustration is taken out on the nearest target.  These students’ behaviors are their way of trying to gain power and control in an otherwise out-of-control situation. Students’ abusive and/or violent behavior is often associated with their use of alcohol and/or drugs. Look for:

  • Explosive outbursts; threats
  • Ongoing belligerent, hostile behavior; defiance
  • Verbal or physical abuse; yelling, screaming, clenched fists
  • Attempt to dominate others (e.g., in group projects or presentations)
  • Feeling frustrated, agitated and/or agonized over perceived failures, often followed by periods of melancholy
  • Bitterness and resentment towards others’ successes
  • Inappropriately focusing on self; exhibitionism
  • Being at the end of one’s rope or endurance limit


  • Remember, safety first.  If you or your students are in danger, call the Campus Police (x. 4444 or *80 from a campus pay phone).  Do not stay alone with the student if you do not feel safe.
  • Stay safe.  Have easy access to a door, keep furniture between you and the student, and keep the door open if at all possible and appropriate.
  • Acknowledge the student’s anger and frustration (e.g., “I hear how angry you are.”).
  • Rephrase what the student is saying and identify her/his emotion (e.g., “I can see how upset you are because you feel your rights are being violated and nobody will listen.”).
  • Reduce stimulation; invite the student to talk to you in a safe, quiet place, if appropriate. Make certain that a staff or faculty person is nearby and accessible.
  • Allow the student to vent her/his feelings and to tell you what is upsetting her/him.
  • Be directive and firm (e.g., “Please lower your voice.  I cannot listen to you when you yell and scream.” Or “You certainly have the right to be angry, but breaking things is not OK.”).
  • File an Incident Report with the Vice President of Student Services.  Familiarize yourself with Administrative Regulation 5401 procedures for further disciplinary options and actions.


  • Get into an argument or shouting match.
  • Become hostile or punitive (e.g., “You can’t talk to me that way!”).
  • Press the student for explanations about her/his behavior.
  • Ignore the situation.
  • Touch the student.

The Demanding Passive Student

Typically, even the utmost time and energy given to these students is not enough.  They often seek to control your time and believe the amount of time received is a reflection of their worth. You may find yourself increasingly drained and feeling overly-responsible for this student. The demanding passive student may:

  • Have difficulty making everyday decisions
  • Need an excessive amount of reassurance, advice, nurturance and/or support
  • Need others to assume more than their share of responsibility
  • Have difficulty initiating projects or working independently
  • Consistently lack self-confidence in her/his judgment and abilities


  • Let the student make her/his decisions.
  • Set firm and clear limits on your personal time and involvement.
  • Offer referrals with other sources of support, both on campus and in the community
  • Set a time limit on your discussions with the student.


  • Get trapped into giving advice.
  • Give special considerations (e.g., frequent extensions on assignment deadlines).
  • Avoid the student as an alternative to setting and enforcing limits and boundaries.

The Student Suspected of Substance Abuse

Alcohol is the most widely used psychoactive drug. Alcohol abusers in college populations often also abuse drugs, including both prescription and illicit drugs.  While patterns of use are affected by fads and peer pressure, the currently preferred drug-of-choice among college students is alcohol.  The effects of alcohol on the user are well known to most of us.  Alcohol and/or drug abuse by a student is most often characterized by:

  • Irresponsible, unpredictable behavior
  • Missed assignments, poor class attendance
  • Poor quality of work compared to student’s ability
  • Spaced-out and/or disheveled appearance
  • Belligerence, mood swings (e.g., agitation followed by depression)
  • Smells of alcohol; hand tremors
  • Legal problems
  • Interpersonal and/or social interaction problems


  • Confront the student with the behavior that is of concern.
  • Address the substance abuse issue if the student is open and willing.
  • Offer concern for the student’s overall well-being.
  • Remind the student that she/he is prohibited from being on campus while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs (Administrative Regulation 5401).
  • Refer student to Student Health Center or Counseling and Special Programs for personal counseling
  • Call Campus Police (x. 4444 or *80 from any campus payphone) if student is clearly under the influence.  File an Incident Report with the Vice President of Student Services.  Familiarize yourself with Administrative Regulation 5401 for further disciplinary options and actions.


  • Convey judgment or criticism about the student’s suspected substance abuse.
  • Make allowances for the student’s irresponsible behavior.
  • Ignore signs of alcohol and/or drug intoxication in the classroom.

The Suspicious Student

Typically, these students complain about something other than their psychological difficulties.  They often come to the faculty member’s attention because they:

  • Are generally tense, anxious and mistrustful
  • Are isolated and have few friends, if any
  • Tend to interpret minor oversights as significant personal rejection
  • Overreact to insignificant occurrences
  • See themselves as the focal point of everyone’s behavior
  • Believe that everything that happens has special meaning to them; reads hidden or threatening meanings into benign remarks or events
  • Are overly concerned with fairness and with being treated equally
  • Feel that others are trying to harm, exploit or deceive them
  • Are reluctant to confide because of unwarranted fears that the information will be used maliciously against them


  • Express compassion without being overly friendly.  Remember that suspicious students have trouble with trust, closeness and warmth.
  • Agree with student that you are a stranger and that even strangers can be concerned.
  • Be consistent, punctual and firm.
  • Be specific and clear regarding the standards of behavior and academic performance you expect.
  • Suggest to the student that personal counseling is available and potentially helpful.


  • Assure the student that you are her/his friend.
  • Be overly warm and nurturing.
  • Flatter or participate in their games. 
  • Be cute or humorous.
  • Challenge or agree with any mistaken or illogical beliefs.
  • Be ambiguous.

The Sexually Harassed Student

Sexual harassment involves unwelcome and unwanted sexual attention and/or advances, requests for sexual favors, and other inappropriate verbal comments or physical contact.  It usually occurs within the context of a relationship of unequal power, rank or status.  It does not matter whether or not the offending person’s intention was to harass.  It is the effect that harassment has that counts.  As long as the conduct interferes with a student’s academic performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive learning environment, it is considered sexual harassment.  Sexual harassment usually is not an isolated, one-time-only incident, but rather, a repeated pattern of behavior that may include:

  • Comments about one’s body or clothing
  • Questions about one’s sexual behavior
  • Demeaning references to one’s gender
  • Sexual teasing, jokes, remarks, looks or gestures
  • Conversations filled with innuendoes and double meanings
  • Letters, phone calls, material or objects of a sexual nature
  • Repeated non-reciprocated demands for dates or sex
  • Deliberately touching, brushing up against, leaning over, cornering, or pinching another; being forced to kiss someone
  • Actual or attempted rape or sexual assault
  • Mooning or flashing
  • Being the victim of sexual rumors
  • Having one’s clothes pulled off or down

Students who have been sexually harassed often display these characteristics:

  • Signs of stress and anxiety
  • Feeling powerless and helpless
  • Doubting their own perceptions of what happened
  • Wondering if the incident was a joke
  • Questioning if they have brought the incident upon themselves
  • Decreased participation in the classroom; dropping or avoiding classes, or even changing majors
  • Believing that their complaint will not be taken seriously;  mistrusting the system; doubting that their school will support them; believing that reporting will make no difference; thinking that their friends will not support them
  • Feeling embarrassed
  • Reluctance to “rock the boat”; not wanting to get the harasser in trouble
  • Fear of the harasser or others


  • Listen carefully to the student and assure her/him that you understand.
  • Help the student seek advice and guidance through a counselor, the campus police, a department chair or other trusted person.
  • Inform the student that formal and informal complaints can begin with the Vice President of Student Services and/or the Campus Police.  Familiarize yourself with Administrative Regulation 5401.
  • Advise the Dean of your division.
  • File an Incident Report with the Vice President of Student Services.
  • Refer to Victims of Sexual Assault webpage:


  • Ignore the situation. 
  • Don’t try to deal with the situation alone. 
  • Don’t confront or accuse the suspected perpetrator. 

Referring Students for Mental Health Services

When you have determined a referral for mental health services is appropriate, you can be most helpful by clearly and concisely telling the student why you think counseling would be of benefit.  You might also tell the student a few facts about our services.  Here are important facts that students want to know:

  • All counseling is free to currently registered, enrolled students
  • Counseling is available Monday through Thursday, from 8:00 AM until 7:00 PM, and on Fridays from 8:00 AM until 3:00 PM
  • All counseling sessions are strictly private and confidential
  • Early intervention is preferable to crisis intervention
  • Call in advance to make an appointment (except when there is a crisis and no prescheduled appointment is needed)

Students may receive personal counseling at either the Student Health Center or the Counseling and Special Programs Office.  Having students make the call to schedule an appointment increases their responsibility for and commitment to the counseling process.  However, there may be times, especially if students are in crisis, when it is necessary for you to assist them with the call or to accompany them to one of our offices.

Here is the important information that students will need:

Information Student Health Center Counseling & Special Programs
Location SSC177 SSC167
Phone 949-582-4606 949-582-4572
Hours Mon-Thurs 8am - 7 pm
Friday 8am - 3 pm
Mon-Thurs 8am-5pm
Friday 8am-3pm

Call the office or come to the Health Center to schedule an appointment.

Appointment will be scheduled for the first available opening
Crisis situations do not require a prescheduled appointment.

Crisis situations do not require a prescheduled appointment.

Call the office or come to the Counseling &Special Programs office to schedule an appointment

Appointment will be scheduled for the following week

Crisis situations do not require a prescheduled appointment.


Individual counseling
Couples counseling
Family and parenting counseling
Group counseling
Crisis intervention

Personal counseling
Academic counseling
Career counseling
Crisis intervention

Faculty, Classified Staff In-Service Training

The Student Health Center psychologists provide pre-scheduled in-service training to faculty and classified staff in identifying and assisting students who are in emotional/psychological distress, are disruptive, or who are potentially threatening.  The training is organized around three primary areas of preparedness. 

First, the staff is taught and gains experience in active listening and de-escalating students who are distressed. 

Second, they are provided information with how to access on-campus resources, including Campus Police, General Counseling,  and the Student Health Center for students in need. 

Last, they are given detailed training on how to respond to crisis situations, with specific information on the Crisis Intervention services.

Kognito "At-Risk" Gate Keeper Training

Help A Stressed Student


Kognito Training Opportunities for
Faculty, Staff, Administrators, and Students

As many as one in five students suffer from a mental disorder that may threaten their well-being or academic performance. Suicide is the leading cause of student mortality among college students. Training everyone on campus to identify, approach, and refer students in psychological distress is an effective strategy for strengthening the safety net for all students. 

In order to help address these concerns, the Counseling Division has adopted 6 fully interactive, avatar based training simulations to help faculty, staff, administrators, and students build skills through role play.  3 trainings are specific for faculty, staff, & administrators and 3 are specifically designed for students.  Users engage in conversations with emotionally responsive student avatars who exhibit signs of psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. In this process, the user practices and learns to use open-ended questions, reflective listening, and other motivational interviewing techniques to effectively:

  • Broach the topic of psychological distress
  • Discuss their concern with the student
  • Avoid common pitfalls such as attempting to diagnose the problem or giving unwarranted advice.  

Key Features for All 6 Trainings:

  • Online, 24/7 accessibility
  • Train at your own pace 
  • Save progress and complete later
  • Interactive role play
  • Earn 1.5 hours of professional development
  • Trainings can be completed in 1 hour or less
  • Engaging skill based curriculum
  • Personalized feedback
  • Customized local resources page
  • Certificate of completion at end of each training

Professional Development is Available for Faculty - Must complete Individual Activity Report Form.

Extra Credit is Available for Students  Link to Extra Credit Assignment Template

  • Students, please ask your professor if they are participating in Kognito At-Risk training.
  • Professors, please note this is a word document which can be modified to suit your specific course requirements.

Institutional Benefits

  • Promote early intervention
  • Increase student retention and academic performance
  • Reduce the stigma associated with mental illness
  • Supplement and create visibility for campus mental health initiatives
  • Develop learners communication and intervention skills