What’s Normal?

College creates exposure to a host of new experiences, and you’ll likely see some changes in your student: new friends, activities, clothing styles, values, thoughts, and ideas. They may even call home less often or disclose less information than they did in the past. This is normal and part of becoming an independent adult. The Jed Foundation provides helpful information regarding transitions, student experiences, and mental health issues at their website: www.jedfoundation.org.

Students in Crisis or Distress

Most parents will not have a student who becomes emotionally distressed or suicidal, but knowing the available resources is important: According to the Jed Foundation, 63% of students surveyed would turn to their family if they were in emotional distress. Many students resist seeking counseling for fear of what their parents might say. Showing them that you are supportive of counseling and help-seeking will increase their likelihood of getting help. While these situations or crises can be temporary, they may lead to suicidal thoughts in some students. Individuals who are in crisis or contemplating suicide often give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member. All suicide threats, gestures, and attempts must be taken seriously.

For more information, visit www.jedfoundation.org/parents.

Signs of Distress or Suicide

  • Intense sadness, depression, or anxiety
  • Complaints of loneliness or isolation
  • Hopelessness, worthlessness or pessimism
  • Rage, uncontrolled anger, seeking revenge
  • Engaging in reckless or risky activities
  • Feeling trapped – like there’s no way out
  • Increased/problematic alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society
  • Noticeable parental dependence (or abrupt withdrawal)
  • Anxiety, agitation, inability to sleep or sleeping all the time
  • Dramatic mood changes
  • Poor academic performance
  • Loss or failure, (real or perceived): relationships, deaths, school, jobs, etc.
  • Expressing no reason for living; no sense of purpose in life
  • Verbal statements or statements on social media about death, dying, suicide, or going away
  • Threatening to hurt or kill themselves or talking of wanting to kill themselves
  • Seeking means of suicide by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means

What to Do

  • Be direct. Ask how they are doing and share your concerns and observations.
  • Ask if they are thinking about suicide: Asking someone about suicide doesn’t put the idea into their head.
  • Listen non-judgmentally: Allow them to express how they feel; don’t discuss whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether the feelings are good or bad.
  • Get help: Call a crisis line, police, or agency that specializes in crisis intervention.
  • Take action: Remove means, such as guns or pills.
  • Show support: “I’m here to give you whatever support you need.”
  • Offer hope that help and support are available, but don’t offer glib reassurance-it only shows you “don’t understand.”


  • Act shocked. This could put distance between you and you student or create secrecy to protect your feelings
  • Be sworn to secrecy. You and your student will need additional support
  • Say that suicide is “selfish” or lecture about the value of life: It may reflect that you don’t hear their pain.

Counseling Services at MSU

Counseling & Psychological Services (CPS) is MSU’s center for mental health services. It is accredited by the International Association of Counseling Centers, is a recipient of a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, and its Doctoral Internship Program is accredited by the American Psychological Association.

The CPS staff is comprised of licensed Master’s and Doctoral-level counselors and psychologists from accredited training programs who have expertise in college student mental health and development. CPS also hosts advanced graduate students earning their Master’s and Doctoral degrees who are supervised by licensed staff members.

Services at CPS

Counseling & Referral:
CPS provides free and confidential individual, group, and couples counseling to MSU students. Due to the high demand for counseling services, CPS utilizes a short-term counseling model that aims to address students’ concerns in 10 sessions. Should students need additional services beyond 10 sessions, they may be able to receive them at CPS depending on the student’s needs and the availability of resources. At other times, referrals to low-cost counseling or community providers in Bozeman are provided.

Continuation of Current Care:
Students who have had prior counseling or have been prescribed medication prior to coming to MSU have several options:

Prevention & Education:
To help students navigate their college experience, CPS provides seminars on:

  • Mental Health & Wellness
  • Time/stress Management
  • Academic and Life Skills
  • Suicide Prevention

Crisis or Emergency:
CPS is available to students and MSU staff in emergency situations. There is a 24-hour on-call system where appropriate university staff can reach a CPS staff member at any time. If you are worried about your student, you can receive consultation from a CPS staff member to discuss your concerns, explore supportive strategies, and discuss ways to encourage your student to seek help. While we cannot call students into our office or provide welfare checks, we can direct you to campus personnel who can initiate those contacts and provide the support and guidance you need to help your student.

For more information, visit Mental Health and Crisis Resources.

In Montana, students 17 years or older are legally entitled to receive confidential counseling. CPS staff are legally and ethically bound to maintain students’ confidentiality and cannot disclose any information unless a student grants written permission consenting to do so.

In a crisis situation, CPS makes every attempt to gain this consent. If a student does not grant this permission, confidentiality can be broken if there is a threat to self or others. Disclosure to university staff, community responders, or parents may occur depending on the nature of the situation and the needs of the student. Information disclosed is limited only to what is necessary to protect the student, and only to those who are best able to help. Efforts are made to help the student utilize all available resources, including parents and family.

CPS works collaboratively with on-campus and community resources to ensure the safety of any student at-risk, who will often contact parents or family members that students identify as helpful. These are understandably very stressful and worrisome situations.Please be assured that CPS and MSU staff will do everything they can within the bounds of the law to protect students’ safety.

Additional Resources for Parents & Families:

Additional Resources

Jed Foundation:

National Alliance on Mental Illness: