Recognizing the warning signs of a student in distress does not require special training or expertise. It does, however, require an awareness of symptoms. Not everyone will directly state that something is wrong, but language and behaviors often do. Look for recent changes in the following areas:
→ Shows up for an event or class, but leaves early
→ Makes excuses to avoid social opportunities
→ Doesn't seem to connect with others
→ Skips class frequently
→ Stays in room or bed all day
→ Avoids eye-contact
→ Intends to harm self or someone else
→ Expresses a hopeless or negative outlook
→ Blames self or others for mood/behavior
→ Speaks in confused or disorganized way
MAJOR CHANGES IN MOOD OR BEHAVIOR
→ Appears agitated, depressed, "checked-out," uptight or on edge
→ Neglects personal hygiene or appearance
→ Increased use of alcohol or drugs
→ Significant weight gain or loss
→ Increased sleep or inability to sleep nearly every day
→ Decreased ability to concentrate
Don't be afraid to ask "What's wrong?" or "What's going on?" Simply asking the question won't create a problem where there isn't one. Don't underestimate the importance of listening. Without "doing" anything else, you are providing the support that could help your friend feel heard and understood (maybe for the first time). Face-to-face communication is best, when possible, but any (e.g. email, text) communication is better than none. Some helpful tips:
→ Be Attentive
→ Pay attention to verbal and non-verbal language
→ Convey an accepting attitude (e.g. try not to judge or dismiss the person)
Express concern in a calm, non-judgmental way. Acknowledge that you can see the struggle and that it is appropriate to feel that way.
→ Do say things like: "I'm worried about you. It seems like you haven't been yourself lately."
→ Don't say things like: "It seems like your life's a mess right now."
Keep in mind that struggling with normal life events does not always require counseling. However, if the situation is causing a severe reaction (e.g. the student seems to be spiraling downward or not functioning well) or it has been ongoing for more than a week or two, then a referral to counseling may be appropriate.
The University Counseling Center staff are here to offer help, guidance and support. If you would like to consult with a staff member about how to handle a student's concerns, call (314) 977-TALK (8255).
◊ When should I refer?
- Review the warning signs to determine if any apply to the student. Trust your own intuition even if there are no identifiable signs.
- If you have immediate concerns about a student's safety (i.e. you think he/she might cause harm to self or others), stay with the student and call the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (DPSEP) at 314-977-3000 or 911.
- If it is not a life-threatening situation but you are still concerned, you can involve DPSEP and/or accompany the student to the University Counseling Center during regular business hours.
- After hours, there are several options:
- Contact the student's Resident Advisor or Residence Life Professional staff at (314) 486-4947
- Speak to on-call Campus Ministry staff at (314) 630-9197
- Call the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness at (314) 977-3000
- Consult with an on-call UCC staff member at (314) 977-TALK
◊ How do I refer?
- Encourage the student make an appointment directly if possible. You may want to assist them by dialing the number, wait while the appointment is made or even walk with them to the University Counseling Center.
- Click here for details on how to make an appointment.
Additional information for faculty and staff
The Dean of Students office maintains a comprehensive handbook entitled Responding to Emotionally Distressed Students. This handbook is available here and provides additional, useful feedback on various student issues.