Stanford’s Red Folder program helps faculty and staff respond to students in distress

Vaden Health Center is piloting a program called the Stanford Red Folder designed to help guide Stanford faculty and staff who are responding to and supporting students in distress.

Stanford is continuing to strengthen its framework of support for student mental health and well-being by piloting a new resource through Vaden Health Center. Called the Stanford Red Folder, it serves as a guide to help faculty and staff respond to and assist students in distress.

The Stanford Red Folder is designed to help guide faculty and staff who are responding to and supporting students in distress. (Image credit: Kate Chesley)

According to John Austin, special assistant for mental health and well-being at Vaden Health Center, the folder was created after some university employees expressed concern about how to properly respond to a student showing signs of personal hardship.

“We heard from faculty and staff that sometimes they are just not sure what to say or what is appropriate or inappropriate because no one wants to further traumatize someone in distress,” he said. “So we came up with a process to help them.”

That step-by-step process is outlined in the Red Folder. It describes the indicators of distress, which can include repeated absences from class, marked changes in physical appearance and expressions of hopelessness. The folder then provides a blueprint for how to respond and offers tips for having a tactful conversation that builds trust. The folder also contains a comprehensive list of resources to which the faculty or staff member can connect the student, depending on the specific needs and circumstances. Those resources fall into three main categories:

  1. Social-connection resources for students having a hard time but whose safety is not at risk. These resources include Stanford’s many community centers.
  2. Specialized resources for students who show signs of distress and could use more thorough help from places such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) or the Office of Alcohol Policy and Education.
  3. Urgent resources for students who exhibit dangerous or threatening behavior to themselves or others and need more immediate support.

Austin said that Vaden has printed copies of the Stanford Red Folder for use by all university staff and faculty, thanks to support from the Stanford Parents’ Club.

“We have 7,000 hard copies being distributed across campus that should be making their way to users,” he said, adding that the folder is also available online and can be downloaded in PDF form. The online version will be updated throughout the year, while the hard-copy version will be updated annually.

“I think every campus in the country is dealing with its own complexities around student well-being and mental health.”

—John Austin

Vaden Health Center

The Red Folder is just the latest initiative in a broader strategy to support student mental health and well-being at Stanford. Over the past several months, Stanford has made an aggressive push to improve its services, including a new student-intake model for CAPS, well-being and resource matrix (WARM) trainings and partnerships with the JED initiative, which is a nationwide program to address mental health issues among teens and young adults.

“Currently, great things are happening all across campus,” Austin said. The Red Folder, he hopes, will strengthen that work by providing individuals and departments with a single guide to assisting students in need. The need, he said, is not unique to Stanford.

“I think every campus in the country is dealing with its own complexities around student well-being and mental health,” he said. The Red Folder initiative has been implemented by many colleges and universities around the country, including the entire University of California system. Austin said that Vaden studied how other schools rolled out this initiative and adapted the approaches to fit the campus’ unique needs and culture.

Vaden welcomes feedback from anyone in the Stanford Community. Comments, suggestions and requests for hard-copy folders can be sent to More information is available from Student Affairs at the Stanford Red Folder page.