Students in Distress

How Can You Help?

University students may experience a great deal of stress during the course of their academic experiences. While most students cope successfully with the challenges these years bring, some students find the various pressures of life unmanageable or unbearable. As faculty members, teaching assistants, and other staff, you may encounter distressed students in your office or your classrooms. Many of these students have not sought counseling and may be unaware of the services available to them. Your role could be a positive and crucial one in identifying students who are in distress and assisting them to find the resources available to help themselves. The information below will provide suggestions for faculty and staff on assisting students in distress.

What Signs Indicate that a Referral to the Counseling Center Might Be Helpful?

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

  • Abrupt/radical changes in behavior, including a dramatic decrease in academic functioning
  • Isolation from others
  • Noticeable changes in mood, such as depression, apathy, or irritability
  • Poor attendance in classes
  • Sudden outbursts of anger
  • Attention/memory difficulties
  • Alcohol/drug abuse
  • Marked change in personal hygiene/appearance
  • Inappropriate crying
  • Bizarre statements or behavior
  • Suicidal statements

How Do I Talk With a Student About a Referral to the Counseling Center?

Although it may feel intrusive or awkward to address these personal issues with students, more often than not students appreciate your efforts in the long run. Tell the student you would like to speak with them about concerns you have, and ask the student to meet with you during office hours or some other mutually agreed upon time. In the course of sharing your concern do not attempt to be the counselor but do provide information and referral options regarding available campus and community resources.

Guidelines for Interacting with the Student

  • Be mindful of the student’s privacy.
  • Listen carefully; show concern and interest.
  • Avoid criticizing or sounding judgmental.
  • Suggest the Counseling Center as a resource and discuss this with the student. Offer a Counseling Center brochure.
  • Explain to the student that counseling and referral services at the Center are confidential. Let the student know that the Counseling Center staff will not discuss their concerns with anyone (not even you) without their written permission.
  • If the student resists help and you are still worried, contact the Counseling Center to discuss your concerns.

How Do I Make a Referral to the Counseling Center?

  • Provide the student with the Counseling Center’s phone number: 355-8270 or direct him/her to our website for further information
  • Consider having the student call the Counseling Center from your office.
  • Follow up with the student by inquiring as to whether she/he followed through with their appointment and how she/he felt about the session.

Can I Call the Counseling Center and Make the Appointment on the Student’s Behalf?

We are unable to allow anyone other than the student to make an appointment at the Counseling Center. You can be most helpful by encouraging the student to make an appointment and/or by allowing the student to call the Counseling Center from your office.

What Should I Do if the Student is in Distress and Immediate Attention is Needed?

  • Let the student know that they should call the Counseling Center at 355-8270 and identify her/himself as needing immediate assistance. A phone or in-person consultation will occur the same day.
  • If you wish to be certain the student makes the session, call the Counseling Center while the student is in your office.
  • It may be helpful for you to accompany the student to the Counseling Center and/or wait while they meet with a counselor.
  • If you consider the situation to be an emergency, dial 911 before contacting the Counseling Center. Do not delay attending to safety issues.

The Counseling Center welcomes your calls (517-355-8270) at any time to consult with us regarding your concerns about your students. Counseling Center staff can offer suggestions and ideas about referral options, resources, and other ways to address your concerns.