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Faculty, staff, parents, and friends of students are often among the first to notice students who are encountering overwhelming amounts of stress in their lives. This stress can seriously disrupt academic progress, personal relationships, and enjoyment of daily life. Below are some indications of students in distress and guidelines to follow if you are concerned about a student.
- Social isolation, withdrawal, lethargy.
- Inability to focus on a specific topic in a conversation or activity.
- Disorganized thinking and speech, feelings that are inappropriate to the situation, lack of affect, or other evidence that student is “out of touch with reality.”
- Expression of feelings of persecution, strong mistrust of others.
- Violent outbursts.
- Signs of excessive alcohol or drug use.
- Expressions of general unhappiness over a period of several weeks.
- Frequent class absence or “disappearance” over extended periods of time.
- Gain or loss of significant amounts of weight.
- Abrupt change in manner, style, or personal hygiene.
- Increasing dependence on others.
- Marked anxiety, extreme restlessness, inability to concentrate or relax.
- Marked decrease or increase in appetite.
- Marked decrease or increase in sleep.
- Loss of interest in formerly pleasurable or meaningful activities such as classes, social life, intimate relationships.
- Expression of irrational fears.
- Physical complaints without a medical cause, such as headache, stomach pains, etc.
- Unusual ritualistic or repetitive behavior.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Suicidal thoughts, plans, threats.
- Overwhelming financial obligations.
- History of emotional disturbances (e.g. depression, alcohol, drug abuse, eating disorder, anxiety, suicide attempts).
- Traumatic family event(s) such as recent separation or divorce of parents, serious illness or death of family member, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at home.
- Recent loss of an important person (either by death or by separation/break-up).
- Recent loss of esteem.
- Previous period of poor functioning.
Guidelines for responding to a student in distress:
- Share your interest and concern openly, directly, and with care.
- Set clear limits.
- Maintain a student’s privacy.
- Do not promise confidentiality. Rather inform a student that you will use discretion in seeking outside assistance. You may want to look at our confidentiality statement which all students read when they come in for counseling.
- Help a student tell his or her story. Offer the opportunity to listen to whatever is on the student’s mind.
- Demonstrate an understanding of what the student discloses.
- Clarify vague, confusing, or disturbing student disclosures. Ask, “What do you mean by…?”
- Inquire how the student is attempting to respond to the problem. Develop response options together.
- Consider with the student the consequences of “doing more of the same.”
- Consult with trustworthy individuals if you feel you need additional perspectives, before or after approaching the student.
- Suggest a referral to the Counseling Center, Health Services, Academic Skills Center, Career Services, College Chaplain or other community resource.
- Follow-up. Offer and be open to further contact.
- It is always a good idea to consult with peers, counselors, or others who might be able to give you feedback and suggestions for working with a student with problems.
- Often a referral is not necessary; approaching the student with your concerns can make an immediate impact on his or her behavior and/or performance.
- No one has the expertise to handle everything an individual may present to them, so we all need to be familiar with the process of asking for help or referring a problem to someone who has the training, experience, and position to do the best job.
When to Refer:
- The problems or requests made are beyond your level of competence.
- There are personality differences which interfere with your ability to work with this student.
- The boundaries of your role make it unwise to work with students on personal issues.
- A student expresses a preference (directly or indirectly) to speak with someone else about their concerns.
- After some time and effort, you feel like you are not making progress in helping this student.
How to Refer:
- Consider helping the student make an appointment with the Counseling Center, perhaps by walking with the student to the office or encouraging the student to call the Counseling Center (903.813.2247).
- After a referral, let the student volunteer information they want to share. It may not be necessary for you to have details of a student’s interaction with the counselor. In fact, at times the student may wish to stop talking to you about the problem altogether. Communicate continued concern and openness to help.
- Once a referral is made, communication between the student and the counseling staff member is often confidential. You may be curious and feel unfinished in your work with the student, but you may have to let it be that way as the student begins to work with someone else.
- Do not expect miracles. Behaviors, attitudes, and feelings take time to change, and a student may show slow progress or, for a while, none at all. Trust the process and, again, communicate your continued concern and availability.