As faculty members at Weber State University, you spend a lot of time with students. You often get to know them well through their participation in class, their assignments and papers, and the time they spend in your office. You are in an excellent position to recognize when a student has a potential emotional or mental health problem, and you likely have questions or concerns about what to do in these situations. CPSC is here to help, and you are always welcome to call and consult with us. 801-626-6406
Identifying Students in Distress
Students can experience emotional distress for a variety of reasons. Many students are able to get through stressful times on their own without significant impact on their emotional or behavioral functioning. Some students, however, have more difficulty coping with distressing situations and/or struggle with mental illnesses. In such cases, you may see some of the following symptoms:
- Academic concerns such as:
- Uncharacteristically poor work
- Repeated requests for extensions
- Disruptive behavior in class
- Alarming content in written work
- Difficulty concentrating
- Excessive absences
- Interpersonal concerns such as:
- Difficulty getting along with others
- Social isolation or awkwardness
- Extreme defensiveness
- Boundary violations:
- Inappropriate disclosures and help-seeking regarding personal problems
- Excessive support-seeking, including spending extended time in your office
- Behavioral concerns such as:
- Changes in personal hygiene
- Fatigue; falling asleep in class
- Irritability, agitation, or restlessness
- Inappropriate responses and/or disjointed thoughts
- Intense, dramatic, or volatile emotion
- Anhedonia: Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- Physical harm to self
- Verbal or written references to distress, including suicidal/homicidal thoughts or plans
Helping Students in Distress
Over the course of a semester, you get to know your students and their typical ways of interacting. If you notice concerning changes, trust your gut and consider approaching the student to offer support and a referral. The following tips may be helpful:
- Talk to the student privately rather than in class or around peers.
- Make sure that you have enough time to express your concerns, listen, and make a referral.
- Listen carefully to what the student says. Both the content and the emotion are important. Your student will feel validated when you listen to both.
- Discuss your observations with the student in a direct and honest manner, and express concern in a non-judgmental way. Respect the student’s value system, even if you do not agree with it.
- Help the student develop options for action. This could include a referral to CPSC or to other campus resources.
- Remember your own boundaries. Be clear with the student about limits to your ability to help.
- Do not keep secrets, or promise to do so, if the student is threatening to harm him/herself or others. Contact Campus Police, the Dean of Students, or CPSC for assistance.
- Familiarize yourself with campus resources. Knowing about various resources, and sharing your knowledge, may help the student feel more comfortable following through on your recommendations.
What Happens at CPSC
CPSC offers limited crisis intervention services. Students in crisis may request to be seen within the same business day. They meet with one of our counselors who will assess the situation, develop a crisis plan if appropriate, and develop a plan for on-going treatment if needed. Such treatment may take place at CPSC or through a community provider.
We know you care about your students’ well-being. When you are concerned about a student and make a referral to CPSC, it is natural to want to know what happened. You want to make sure the student is okay. Please rest assured that we do our best to meet the needs of all students referred to our office. But confidentiality laws prevent us from sharing any information wiithout the written consent of the student. If you continue to be concerned, consider following up with the student directly. Many students will respond well to non-intrusive requests for an update. Keep in mind that mental health counseling is a very personal thing, so sometimes students will not want to share any information. We encourage you to respect a student’s privacy.
Remember, if you have on-going concerns about a student, especially regarding his/her safety to self or others, you can always contact CPSC to provide us with information. Even though we can’t share specific information with you, your observations and concerns are important.
Helping Yourself When Your Student is in Distress
Helping a person in distress can be emotionally draining. Remember to take care of yourself by seeking help, taking a break, or getting social support. CPSC is a great resource for you in many ways. We can help you best determine how to help a student, accept referrals of students in distress, and even provide counseling services to you if desired. Contact us for more information and to learn about fees for services provided to faculty and staff.
Would You Like to Learn More?
Faculty often encounter students in distress, and may want to know more about how they can help. We are happy to consult with you individually or as a department. Contact us if we can be helpful with regard to a specific situation, or if you’d like more information about CPSC services. We are glad that our students have caring faculty, and we want to support you in any way we can.