Resources for Faculty / Staff
General Red Flags Signaling a Distressed Student
- Drastic decline in academic performance and/or class attendance
- Inability to concentrate, focus on task, or remain motivated
- Noticeable gap between aspirations and achievements resulting in expressions of anger, frustration, despair, depression
- Noticeable changes in mood and/or sudden outbursts
- Noticeable changes in physical appearance (weight, dress, hygiene)
- Excessive dependency on others or extreme withdrawal and isolation from others
- Difficulties in sleeping or talking
- Expressions of helplessness, hopelessness, worthlessness
- Verbal expressions or gestures of suicide
- Acting out
Listed below are some of the more prevalent signs of someone in distress. This list is intended to provide basic information only. Depression: While we all may feel depressed from time to time, “normal” depressions may consist of only one or two symptoms and usually pass within days. Clinically depressed students will exhibit multiple symptoms for a longer period of time. Some of these symptoms are sleep disturbances, poor concentration, change in appetite, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, withdrawal, poor hygiene, loss of self-esteem, and preoccupation with death. Agitation or Acting Out: This would represent a departure from normal or socially appropriate behavior. It might include being disruptive, restlessness or hyperactivity, being antagonistic, and increased alcohol and/or drug abuse. Disorientation: Some distressed students may seem “out of it.” You may witness a diminishment in awareness of what is going on around them, forgetting or losing things, misperception of facts or reality, rambling or disconnected speech, and behavior that seems out of context or bizarre. Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Signs of intoxication during class or interaction with University officials are indicative of a problem that requires attention. Suicidal Thoughts: Most people who attempt suicide communicate early messages about their distress. These messages can range from ” I don’t want to be here”, to a series of vague”good-byes,” to “I’m going to kill myself.” Non-verbal messages could include giving away valued items, and putting legal, financial, and University affairs in order. All of the above messages should be taken seriously. Violence and Aggression: You may become aware of students who may be dangerous to others. This may be manifested by physically violent behavior, verbal threats, threatening e-mail or letters, harassing or stalking behavior, and papers or exams that contain violent or threatening material. These should be reported to the University Police (318-257-4018) and to Student Life (318-257-3396).
While it is not expected that you be a “watchdog” or that you provide a thorough assessment, you may be the first contact for a student in distress and in a position to ask a few questions. Following these guidelines can lead to a positive outcome for all parties: Safety First! : Always keep safety in mind as you interact with a distressed student. Maintain a safe distance and a route of escape should you need it. If danger to you or the student seems imminent, call 911 or the University Police at 318-257-2488. Avoid Escalation: Distressed students can sometimes be easily provoked. Avoid threatening, humiliating, and intimidating responses. It is usually not a good idea to “pull rank” and assert authority unless you are certain of the student’s mental health status. Distressed students are in need of listening and support. One can always remind them of rules at a later time. Ask Direct Questions: Take a calm and matter-of-fact approach. Ask students directly. If they are drunk, confused, or if they have thoughts of harming themselves. You need not be afraid to ask these questions. You will not be “putting ideas in their heads” by doing so. Most distressed students are relieved to know that someone has noticed and is paying attention. Do Not Assume You are Being Manipulated: While it is true that some students appear distressed in order to get attention or relief from responsibility, only a thorough assessment can determine this. Attention-seekers can have serious problems and be in danger, too. Know Your Limits: You will be able to assist many distressed students on your own by simply listening and referring them for further help. Some students will, however, need much more than you can provide. Respect any feelings of discomfort you may have and focus on getting them the assistance they require. You can do this by reinforcing them for confiding in you, being accepting and nonjudgemental, trying to identify the problem area, and indicating that seeking professional help is a positive and responsible thing to do. Some signs that you may have over-extended yourself include:
- Feeling stressed out or overwhelmed by the situation
- Feeling angry at the student
- Feeling afraid
- Having thoughts of “adopting” or otherwise rescuing the student
- “Reliving” similar experiences of your own
Guidelines for Talking with Distressed Students
- Acknowledge the student’s state of distress and offer to help or to find help for the student.
- Encourage the student to talk and describe his/her situation and feelings in enough detail so you can decide what help is needed.
- Listen without making judgments, offering quick fixes, or dismissing the seriousness of the problem. Try to see the situation through the student’s eyes.
- Communicate your concern. Use “I” statements such as “I’m concerned about you,” or “I think there are people at Counseling Services who can help you.”
- Give the student alternatives. Strongly encourage the student to seek assistance through Counseling Services or other appropriate resources.
- Know and express your limitations. You are not expected to be a professional counselor. However, you can serve as an important link to Counseling Services for the student.
- Call Counseling Services (318-257-2488) and University Police (318-257-4018) if you think the person is contemplating harming self or others or if you are not sure what to do. Take all threats, hints, and notes seriously.
- Call University Police (318-257-4018) and the office of the Vice President for Student Advancement (318-257-2445) if you think the person has imminent danger of harming self or others.
- If a student has broken the Student Code of Conduct, this report should be submitted to University Police (318-257-4018) and Student Life (318-257-3396).
- Refer student to Counseling Services. Any member of the Louisiana Tech community may come into contact with a distressed student. Being aware of distress signals, methods of intervention, and sources of help for the student can help you feel more in control of situations that may arise. The mental health professionals at the Counseling Services are available to faculty and staff for consultation regarding these issues. Feel free to call us at 318-257-2488 if you would like to discuss these matters further.
You will want to refer students to Counseling Services when they have questions or express concerns about any of the following:
- Day-to-Day Living Concerns – relationships, self-esteem, handling emotions, stress management, time management, identity, sexuality, values clarification, goal-setting, unhappiness, loneliness, college adjustment
- Educational/Academic Concerns – uncertainty about major, decision-making, study skills, motivation, concentration, time management, test anxiety
- Career/Individual Testing Interests – occupational interest inventories, personality inventories, learning and study skills, alcohol/drug assessment
- Crisis Concerns – suicidal thinking, alcohol or drug abuse, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, sexual assault and abuse, harassment, grief/loss
Tips for Making Effective Referrals
- Help the student clarify what he/she needs or wants. Use “I” statements to express your concerns. For example, “I’m concerned about you. I think it would be helpful for you to talk to a counselor.”
- Share your knowledge about the services (location, hours, names of staff, testing fees, etc.)
- Give handouts, brochures, etc. about the service.
- Assure students of the confidentiality policy of Counseling Services.
- Explain how to make an initial appointment.
- The student or you can call Counseling Services to make an appointment. If possible, offer to make the call or have the student use your phone and make the call right then.
- You may want to accompany the student to the Counseling Services office.
- A specific Counselor can be requested if desired.
- Students with emergencies will be seen immediately.
- You may accompany the student to the office in 310 Keeny Hall if the student wishes to do so.
- In some cases, you might wish to talk with the counselor beforehand.
- Follow-up. Encourage the student to get back in touch with you. Counseling Services will not be able to share information unless the student voluntarily signs a release form.