Identifying and Supporting Students in Distress – The Blue Folder and Other University Resources for You

As the end of the semester approaches, faculty and staff are reminded of a resource with guidance on how best to respond to and support students in distress. 

April 26, 2023

Dear Colleagues,

We are writing to remind you of a resource for faculty and staff seeking guidance on how best to respond to and support students in distress, the Blue Folder. The lead-up to finals and Commencement can be challenging, as many students feel academic stress while preparing for upcoming changes post-graduation or during the summer months. Since introducing the Blue Folder last semester, a number of faculty and staff members have shared that they used this resource and found it helpful.

As someone who interacts with students on a regular basis, you are uniquely positioned to point students in the direction of help and support. The Blue Folder is designed to help you identify students who may be struggling and to connect them with appropriate resources and support. We hope it will enable you to feel better prepared to help students in moments of difficulty—and that you’ll bookmark it or save a copy to use throughout the year.

Recognize and Respond to Signs of Distress
Signs of distress may appear in a student’s academic performance and classroom engagement, 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.

Each of us can play a part in creating a supportive environment and affirming the importance of mental health and all aspects of well-being. Accommodating students who request time off due to illness (physical or emotional) can also be a critical way to support them, especially during times of great academic stress. And, please remember that University resources are also available to you,should you need them.

We thank you for all your work and wish you a calm and successful end to this academic year.

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 (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