Students who display severely disoriented or psychotic behavior

Techniques for working with students who may show signs of disorientation or psychotic behavior, including what to do, and what not to do.

The main feature of psychotic thinking is poor reality testing or “being disconnected from reality”.

Symptoms of severe disorientation or psychosis

  • Disorganized speech
  • Disorganized behavior
  • Extreme or eccentric behavior
  • Inappropriate or complete lack of emotion
  • Behavior that could indicate hallucinations
  • Beliefs that involve a misinterpretation of reality
  • Social withdrawal
  • Inability to connect with or track communication

Psychological illnesses that involve psychotic features often have an onset between the late teens and early 30s.

What you can do

Consult with a professional in University Health Services: Mental Health Services (608-265-5600 – option 9) to assess the level of dysfunction.

  • Speak to the student in a direct and concrete manner regarding your plan for getting them to a safe environment.
  • Walk the student to University Health Services, or arrange for a police escort (911) to a local hospital’s emergency room if the student is highly impaired.
  • Recognize that psychotic states can involve extreme emotion or lack of emotion and intense fear to the point of paranoia.
  • Contact the Office of Student Assistance and Support to update them about the student.

*University Health Services cannot disclose this information to anyone else without permission from the student, so they cannot inform other offices or the student’s faculty.

What you should avoid

Assuming the student will be able to care for themselves.

  • Agitating the student.
  • Arguing with unrealistic thoughts.
  • Assuming the student understands you.
  • Allowing friends to care for the student without getting professional advice.
  • Getting locked into one way of dealing with the student. Be flexible.

Used with permission from the University of Maryland Counseling Center.


Office of Student Assistance and Support

How can we help?

Call us at:

Email us at:

Line art image of Bascom Hall at the University of Wisconsin–Madison

Office of Student Assistance and Support
70 Bascom Hall
500 Lincoln Drive Madison, WI 53706-1380

Monday-Friday: 8:30am - 11:30am, 1pm - 4pm during Summer

After Hours Contacts

Crisis response:
Call Mental Health Services
608-265-5600 (option 9)
Dial 911 for immediate help from the
UW Police Department
UWPD Non-emergency line: 608-264-2677