How to Help a Student in Distress

College students may experience a great deal of stress during the course of their academic experiences. As fellow students, faculty members, teaching assistants, and other staff, you may encounter individuals in distress. Many of these students have not sought out counseling services or are unaware of the services available to them. The following is to help you recognize some of the symptoms of distress and to provide suggestions for assisting a student with appropriate campus and community resources.

Recognizing Symptoms of Distress

The following signs may indicate a need to refer a student to Counseling Services:

  • Abrupt/radical changes in behavior, including a dramatic decrease in academic functioning
  • Excessive absences or tardiness
  • Frequently falling asleep
  • Noticeable changes in mood, such as depression, apathy, or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tearfulness
  • Change in appearance and hygiene
  • Dramatic weight gain or loss
  • Student isolating self from others
  • Sudden outbursts of anger
  • Substance abuse
  • Bizarre statements or behavior
  • References to suicide, homicide, or other violence in verbal statements or writing

What YOU Can Do

  • Talk to the individual privately to avoid embarrassment and defensiveness.
  • Listen to the individual’s thoughts and feelings and respond sensitively to the both the content and the emotions of the situation.
  • Express your concern in a non-judgmental way that reflects your concern for the well-being of the individual.
  • Let the individual know the limits on your ability to help him or her. If you believe counseling may be beneficial for the individual let them know that you feel a consultation with a counselor at Counseling Services could be helpful. If the individual becomes defensive, simply restate your concerns and recommendations.

Ways to Refer to Counseling Services

  • Provide the student with the Counseling Services contact information:
  • Though we are unable to allow anyone other than the student to make an appointment at Counseling Services, we advise you to encourage the student to make an appointment and/or allow the student to call Counseling Services from your office or residence hall.
  • It may be helpful for you to accompany the student to Counseling Services and/or wait while they meet with a counselor.
  • AFTER OFFICE HOURS CRISIS or EMERGENCY:  Call University Police at 8155. When warranted, university police will contact the counselor on duty.
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