Helping the Distressed Student
Faculty and staff members are often the first to recognize a student in distress. While most students effectively negotiate the demands of college life, others find the stress and pressure overwhelming and difficult to manage. In addition to friends, family, clergy, etc., faculty and staff members are often the first point of contact and are an invaluable resource in assisting students who are struggling. We hope this page is helpful in guiding your intervention when you encounter a student you suspect or observe is having emotional difficulties.
Recognizing the Student in Distress
The following are common indicators that a student may be experiencing some difficulty:
- Obvious changes in mood or behavior (depression, anxiety, tearfulness, withdrawal)
- Restlessness, agitation
- Threatening behavior/stalking
- Change in grades, work habits, class attendance
- Intoxication in class
- Direct/indirect expressions of hopelessness/suicidal ideation
- Submission of disturbing course material
- Evidence of self harm
- Poor self care (disheveled, poor grooming)
- Bizarre behavior or speech
- Significant weight changes
What You Can Do
- Don’t ignore the situation. Talk to the student privately and be specific and non-judgmental about your observations that are troubling.
- Express concern and offer assistance (this should include referral to and/or information about Counseling Services).
- Become familiar with Counseling Services so you can refer knowledgeably:
- Services are free
- Services are confidential
- Counseling records are not part of student’s academic record
- Provide some information about the counseling process and what student might gain from it
- Make an effort to destigmatize help-seeking – securing help is an important skill and a sign of strength and initiative in solving a problem.
- Reassure student that making a referral is not a rejection – you are willing to help and are interested in maintaining some follow up contact, but it is best to outline honestly, the limits of your ability to provide ongoing assistance (limits of time, training, objectivity).
- Avoid labeling the student or their behavior.
- Consider reporting concerns to the Behavioral Response Team (BRT – 212-772-4878) or Counseling staff, independent of the student’s willingness to accept help.
- Monitor your own feelings and reactions – helping someone who is in distress can be stressful, anxiety provoking, and emotionally taxing. Seek support from colleagues and consultation from the Counseling Services staff.
- Avoid promising secrecy to student – this could pose a dilemma – instead, reassure the student that you are trustworthy, you value their privacy, and you are committed to assisting in them in seeking further help.
- Recognize your limits:
- It is not your responsibility to solve the problem for students – you are a valuable resource in helping them solve a problem.
- A student may need help beyond what you can/should provide and seeking the appropriate help beyond your scope should be encouraged.
- Do not ignore the following:
- Student who minimizes the problem.
- Student has come to depend on you, thereby avoiding/disregarding importance of seeking alternate, more appropriate sources of help.