Indicators of Distress
As faculty or staff, you will likely have a concern about or interact with a student in distress. The student may seek you out and want to talk about their problems or you may notice something that worries you about the student. Below are some indicators of distress that you may encounter as a faculty or staff member:
- Marked changes in appearance
- Marked changes in weight
- Change in pattern of class attendance (i.e. a student who has been attending and doing well suddenly stops coming to class)
- Changes in class performance (i.e. a student was doing well in a course and then begins to fail exams or not turn in assignments)
- Frequent requests for special considerations such as extended deadlines, retaking of exams, or alterations in assignments
- Change in hygiene behavior or extreme lack of hygiene
- Frequent mood changes and reactivity
- Unusual behavior
- Aggressive behavior
- Appearance of being under the influence of alcohol or other drug (i.e. slurring speech, smelling of alcohol, trouble with motor activities, etc.)
- Extreme isolation or hopelessness
They share with you:
- Feelings of hopelessness or depression
- Feelings of excessive, unmanageable anxiety
- Grief over a recent death or loss of loved one
- Substance abuse/dependency issues
- Extreme difficulty adjusting to college life
- Overwhelmed with life circumstances or decisions (i.e. pregnancy, divorce, family difficulties, financial troubles, etc.)
- Experiencing unmanageable obsessive and/or compulsive behaviors
- Thoughts that are bizarre*
- Hearing or seeing things that others do not perceive*
- Having been the victim of sexual assault or other trauma*
- Is showing warning signs of suicide** (Please refer to the emergency services services tab on our webpage to view warning signs)
- References to self-harm or suicide**
- References to harming someone else or homicide**
* Indicates the student may need immediate help. Call Counseling Services to consult if you are unsure. Suggest to the student that they see someone at Counseling Services for more help.
** Indicates that a student is in need of immediate help!
If you are concerned about a student because you have observed some of the above behaviors, here are some suggestions for how to deal with this student:
The first step is to attempt to speak to the student one-on-one. This should be done in private and ideally when you have some time to really express your concerns to the student.
Be gentle and nonthreatening in your approach. Simply ask the student if they could stay after class for a minute.
Then, share your concerns.
- You can suggest that you have been noticing some behaviors that concern you and that you would like to speak to them more about this.
- Do not suggest that you know what is wrong but instead just tell them what concerning behaviors you have observed.
- Don’t be critical or judgmental.
- Be sincere and listen carefully.
- Stick to talking about their behavior and not interpreting its meaning. Allow them to explain these behaviors to you.
- See if the student has a support system and if they are accessing it.
- Tell the student about resources that may be of help to them on or off campus.
- Make sure that you do not promise confidentiality because in certain situations, you may have to share concerning information that the student tells you in order to best help the student.
If the student is willing to speak with you, you may be able to help the student figure out some of the next steps to getting additional help if needed.
If the students problems are more than you yourself can help with, or the student has come to you several times to discuss the same problems, which do not appear to be improving or seem to be getting worse, you can delicately suggest that they come speak to someone at Counseling Services.
- Reassure them that what they are going through is normal to some degree but that seeking help is the best thing they can do for themselves right now.
- Talk about the benefits of counseling.
- Tell them about the services that Counseling Services offers.
- Reassure them that the services are free and confidential.
- Look at our website together with them.
- If they feel comfortable, help them make an appointment by allowing them to call Counseling Services while they are with you.
- You can also call Counseling Services to let us know you will be walking them over. Once they are here we will have them fill out paperwork and determine the next steps.
If the student declines to talk to you further about these behaviors and is not in crisis, respect their privacy, but tell them that you are available to talk if they change their mind in the future. Also, give them information about Counseling Services, and tell them that they can make an appointment to come and talk to someone in a confidential manner.
If the student declines to talk to you further about these behaviors and they are in crisis and in need of immediate care, please refer to the list below.
When you feel that a situation is urgent, feel free to walk the student to Counseling Services (during weekday hours). If possible, call ahead to tell us you are coming so we are prepared for the student’s arrival. You may be asked to wait so that the counselor who sees the student can gather more information from you about your concerns. During night and weekend hours, call Public Safety.
If the student is unwilling to accompany you to Counseling Services or if you do not feel safe walking them over, you should call Public Safety who can accompany the student.
If the student has caused a behavioral disturbance or violated a conduct policy, the Dean of Students Office (609-896-5101) should also be notified so that the safety and quality of life of the rest of the student body is also protected. The Dean of Students Office is also able to reach out to students that you are concerned about when appropriate.
How to decide if the student is in crisis and in need of immediate care:
- You think a student is thinking about suicide.
- The student has physically harmed themselves in some way.
- You think a student is thinking of harming someone else.
- A student appears to be in an altered state in which they are having trouble perceiving reality.
- The student has recently been the victim of a trauma such as a sexual assault.
If you still do not feel that you know how to express your concerns to the student:
You can call Counseling Services and we will consult with you. We do not contact the student ourselves. The services we provide are voluntary and the student must agree to speak with us. The exception to this is where there is a psychological emergency in which the student expresses that they are in danger of harming themselves or someone else. In these cases, Counseling Services, Dean of Students Office, and Public Safety should be notified immediately, and we will all work together to ensure that this student gets immediate assistance.
A word about confidentiality:
We at Counseling Services must follow strict ethical and legal guidelines which prevent us from sharing information about students with anyone, including faculty and staff, without the student’s permission. However, we can receive information that you have to offer about a student and consult with you about the information that you are sharing. If you would like information about a student’s psychological care and it is determined to be in the student’s best interest, then the student would need to voluntarily sign a release of information allowing us to share this information.
Contact Counseling Services during business hours on the Lawrenceville campus at (609) 896-5157 and on the Westminster campus at (609) 921-7100 x 8275 and Public Safety at any time by calling (609) 896-7777.