Introducing a New Resource to Support Students in Distress

This new online tool, called the "Blue Folder"  is designed to give faculty and staff the tools to identify, address, and refer students in distress.

December 06, 2022

Dear Colleagues,

As we near the conclusion of the Fall term, we are pleased to share the Blue Folder, designed to be an indispensable resource for faculty and staff seeking guidance on how best to respond to and support students in distress. The Blue Folder is designed not only to help you identify a student who may be struggling, but also connect them with appropriate resources and support. We hope it will enable you to feel better prepared to help students in a moment of difficulty—and that you’ll ‘bookmark’ it for use anytime of the year.

Because you interact with students regularly, you are uniquely positioned to help them, and connect them to critical University resources.

Recognize and Respond to Signs of Distress 

Signs of distress may show up in a student’s academic performance and classroom engagement, their appearance and affect, or through emotional self-disclosure. These indicators of distress are signals that a student may need professional support.

If you are concerned about a student and they are not in immediate danger:

Recognize and Respond to Suicide Risk

The simplest and best advice is to take any concerns about suicide or self-harm seriously, and connect the student to professional help. While no single formula can determine if someone is simply sad, “down,” or is severely depressed or at risk for suicide, these and similar behavioral red flags may indicate a student needs professional assistance.

If you believe a student is in immediate danger of self-harm and is in New York City, first call 911, then call Public Safety — Morningside (212-854-5555); Manhattanville (212-853-3333); or Columbia University Irving Medical Center (212-305-7979).

Unsure If a Student Needs Immediate Assistance

Responding to a student who appears to be struggling can be challenging, and it may be difficult to discern whether a student needs immediate assistance. The Blue Folder provides guidance on how to approach a student about whom you have concerns. If you still feel unsure, you can speak with one of Columbia’s counseling services for a consultation 24/7.

You can also consult with and refer students to University resources, including:

These and other resources are also available in the Blue Folder.

Creating a supportive environment and affirming the importance of mental health and all aspects of well-being is an ongoing effort in which each of us can play a part. There may be instances when you are best positioned to support a student by alleviating distress rooted in academics, by giving more time or flexibility where you are comfortable doing so. As a reminder, during times of great academic stress, accommodating students who request time off due to illness (physical or emotional) can also be a critical way to support them. And, please remember that University resources arealso available to you, should you need them.

We thank you for your contributions to our community and all you do to create a positive experience for our students. We wish you a calm and successful end to the semester.

With gratitude,

Mary C. Boyce (she/her/hers)
Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Dennis A. Mitchell (he/him/his)
Executive Vice President for University Life
Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement
Professor of Dental Medicine at CUMC

Katrina Armstrong, MD (she/her/hers)
Executive Vice President for Health and Biomedical Sciences,
Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons
Chief Executive Officer, Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Melanie J. Bernitz (she/her/hers)
Senior Vice President, Columbia Health
Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine (in the Center for Family and Community Medicine)

Marcy Ferdschneider (she/her/hers)
Assistant Vice President, Student Health on Haven
Columbia University Irving Medical Center
Assistant Professor of Medicine at CUIMC