Useful Information for Faculty and Staff

How You Can Help Students in Distress

The first years of university life may give rise to some adjustment issues, because it is a substantial step in students’ life when they leave their previous lives and families and find themselves in an unfamiliar environment. Difficulties encountered may be either academic or social, and in reality are normal processes of adjustment. The important thing, however, is to make them  learn how to deal with the stresses, and make sure they do not translate into problems that will span the college years. Surpassing the adjustment problems will ultimately entail a process that will make the student stronger and more responsible. If the adjustment process is not surpassed, issues may continue and may even become problems. What needs to be done at this stage is to help students strengthen their skills, their combating strategies with difficulties so that they can individually  acquire the skill of problem-solving .

University employees are important role figures in guiding students through their search for help.  Since they are in close contact with students, they have the opportunity both to observe the students closely and be easily reachable in cases where students need consultation.  Below are some clues that show students might be encountering emotional difficulties and they may help you recognize what these difficulties may be.  Problems the students might have are displayed in two categories. Each one of them shows that the students need special interference.

Threshold  1 

The following, especially if they continue for a while, show that the student’s stress level is at a point to be taken into consideration:

  • Very poor academic performance, or a reduction in academic performance;
  • Having high level of absenteeism, especially if the students attendance was better in previous class, course or semester;
  • Repeated  requests  of postponement or extension of deadlines;
  • Classroom interaction norms are abnormally and noticeable changed, due to behaviors that  disturb  other students;
  • Repeated dozing off in classroom;
  • Being seen upset, excessively active or talkative, crying or getting tearful frequently;
  • Socially withdrawn, e.g. if avoiding talking or making eye contact;
  • Excessive changes in appearance (personal hygiene like cleanness, gaining or loosing excessive weight), having alcohol breath;
  • Being inappropriately or excessively reactive to situations, or not responding to stressful situations.

Threshold 2

The signs below show that the student experiencing a crisis, and show that the student is in need of emergency help:

  • Aggressive or extremely alarming actions (hostile threats, harassment);
  • Display of obvious problems in making realistic evaluations; to see, hear, or feel things that others do not see, hear, or feel; thoughts or actions that do not agree with reality;
  • Distorted conversation topics and habits (incoherent banter, exaggerated beliefs, unorganized and fleeting thoughts);
  • Suicidal or other self-damage inflicting expressions of actions (anything related to suicide must definitely be taken seriously);
  • Death threats, or any threats that will harm safety of him/herself or others.

Actions in Threshold 2 can be observed more concretely. You need follow the steps below if you encounter a student undergoing a crisis:

  • Remain calm.
  • Contact the appropriate person (make sure that someone is attending to the student while you are searching for the contact person).
  • If the crisis involves an action such as attack, threat, harassment, or violence, through which the  student may harm either himself and/or someone else, contact the Security Unit (extension 5555).
  • If the crisis is a case of suicide or injury accident, contact the Health Center (extension 6666).
  • Stay with the student until health arrives.

What can You Do for A Student Experiencing Stress

 If you notice a student who shows the symptoms described above (Treshold 1), or if a student comes to you for help, the following suggestions may help you guide the student to the right source

  • Talk to the student in private.  Arrange a place and time where both of you can focus on the problem.  It is more important to give your undivided attention to the student when you listen to him/her rather than arranging a long meeting.  A few minutes could be enough to direct the student to get professional help.  Listening to the student with full attention for a few minutes will encourage him/her.
  • Use a direct, not a judgmental style.  When you are expressing your concern, be clear and say your observation directly.  For example, “I see that you start crying all of a sudden in classes.  I am worried about you; recently I have seen that you have very low morale, you do not talk to your friends, and have lost weight.”
  • Your answers should include direct examples about the student’s situation.  Make sure that your answers show that you understand the student’s problem.  For example, “From what you tell me, I understand that you are having difficulty adjusting to this campus and you see yourself as an outsider on this campus life”, or  “I see that it is difficult for you to talk about what you feel.”
  • Refer the student.  Tell the student he/she can get help for the problems he/she is having.  For example, “If it is difficult for you talk to me about these problems, you can talk to a professional in private and in confidence.”

Follow up.  Later, ask the student whether he/she has sought help from a professional

Student Referrals

Even though you may be sincere in wanting to help students, you may want to direct them to another source that is better able to handle the situation. You should direct them under the follow circumstances:

  • A problem that is too serious for you to handle on your own;
  • If you have spoken with the student and did your best to help, though still feel that someone could better help the student;
  • If your personal views of the student will affect the objectivity required to help him;
  • Though the student has  revealed the existence of a problem to you,  he/she does not want to discuss the problem with you;
  • If a student asks for help that you are not able to give.

If you do decide to help the student on your own, you are required to share all the information you know about the counseling center to the student so that the student is informed about the resource the counseling center provides, and will not be afraid to consult the center for help. For example, it will be helpful to give information on the place, telephone number, working hours to the student.

Here are some examples of sentences you can use with the students in trouble: 

  • “We all need help at one time or another, and someone who will listen to our problems without judgment."
  • "Admitting you need help is the first step to a successful solution to your problem."
  • "Sometimes not knowing what to do can cause stress and tension that worsens the problem."
  • “The University's psychological counseling center is free, and all the information is kept confidential for your privacy."
  • “ Many students visit the psychological counseling center when they need; you can also do."

This text has been prepared by Hatice Güneş by referencing the sources below:

The University of Texas Austin Counseling and Medical Health Center