Faculty & Staff Guidelines for Students in Distress
College students often encounter a great deal of stress during
the course of their academic experience. While most students cope
successfully with the challenges these years bring, an increasing
number of students find that the various pressures of life
unmanageable. As members of the faculty and staff, you are in an
excellent position to recognize behavioral changes that
characterize distressed students. A student’s behavior, especially
if it is inconsistent with your pervious observations, could
constitute an inarticulate attempt to draw attention to him or
herself and serve as a “cry for help.” Many of these students
have not sought out Counseling or Outreach Services. Thus,
your role is crucial in identifying and referring students who are
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF A STUDENT IN DISTRESS
- Excessive procrastination and very poorly prepared work, especially if this is inconsistent with previous efforts.
- Infrequent or inconsistent class attendance with little or no work completed.
- Dependence – the student hangs around you or makes excessive appointments to see you during office hours.
- Chronic fatigue, lack of energy, or frequently falling asleep in class.
- Marked change in personal hygiene.
- Impaired speech or confused, disjointed thoughts.
- Repeated requests for special consideration (e.g., deadline extensions).
- Excessive anger or threats to harm others.
- Behavior that regularly interferes with effective management of your class.
- Suicidal thoughts – referring to suicide as an option, even if in jest.
- Marked irritability, including unruly, aggressive, violent, or abrasive behavior.
- Inability to make decisions despite your repeated attempts to clarify and encourage.
- Dramatic weight loss or weight gain.
- Bizarre or strange behavior that is obviously inappropriate to the situation, (e.g., talking to “invisible people”).
- Normal emotions that are displayed to an extreme degree or for a prolonged period of time (e.g., fearfulness, tearfulness, nervousness).
RESPONDING TO A STUDENT IN DISTRESS
Involve yourself only as far as you are willing to go. At times, in an attempt to reach or help a troubled student, you may become more involved than time or skill permits. It is important to know the boundaries and limitations of your intervention. If you decide to take action, you should follow these guidelines when approaching a distressed student:
- Discuss your concerns with the student in private.
- Listen carefully, remembering not to interrupt or talk too much.
- Show concern and interest.
- Repeat back the essence of what the student has told you.
- Recognize that the student’s concerns are important to them even though they can seem trivial to others. Avoid criticizing or sounding judgmental.
- Consider Outreach Services or Counseling Services as a resource and discuss a referral with the student.
- If the student resists help and you are worried, consult with Counseling or Outreach staff to explore your concerns.
- Consider informing your supervisor or chair.
- Monitor how involved you are becoming. You can be a great resource for students, but it is easy to become overextended with students in need.
HOW TO MAKE A REFERRAL FOR COUNSELING SERVICES
- Inform the student that his/her concerns will be kept in the strictest confidence, and suggest that the student stop by Counseling Services to schedule an appointment. Provide the student with our phone number, x8248, and our location in Edmundson Hall.
- Reluctant students who you feel need to be seen often respond well if you offer assistance. For example, calling Outreach Services (x8407) or Counseling Services (x8248) with the student in your office both assures that contact is made and demonstrates your interest and support.
- If the situation is an emergency, explicitly state that the student needs immediate attention when you call. Stay with the student or contact Campus Safety (x8260) or other Student Affairs staff if there is a threat of danger.
- Sometimes it is useful or necessary for you to walk with the student to the Dean of Students’ Office in Brown Hall or Counseling Services in Edmundson Hall.
- Lastly, if you are concerned about a student but are uncertain about the appropriateness of a referral, feel free to call Outreach Services (x8407) or Counseling Services (x8248) staff for a consultation.
FOR INFORMATION FROM OTHER COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES: