It is important for you to know that you are not alone when working with a student who appears to be in distress. In order to know the best course of action, it may be important to consult with colleagues, supervisors, Deans or Associate Deans, counselors, or others who might be able to help provide suggestions for working with a student who is expressing distress.
You may wish to consult with a Counseling Center staff member by phone or in person.
Click here to find our contact information.
Students may ask you to keep what they tell you “secret” or “confidential". In most cases, there is no concern about keeping their information private. However, please recognize that this may not be prudent in all circumstances. If you are concerned that a student might be at risk (to themselves or others), consultation with another professional might be necessary. You may also consult with a staff member of the counseling center without providing the name of a student. Helping a student get appropriate support from other professionals may help them become more successful academically and may have positive impact on their behavior in your class.
Common challenges that students encounter:
There are many issues that students encounter in college. The majority of college students will either experience or will have a friend who experiences the following issues:
- Alcohol and substance use/abuse
- Changes in routines (sleep, studying, meals, etc.)
- Conflicts within a relationship
- Coping with a traumatic event
- Contracting a sexually transmitted disease
- Decreased levels of concentration
- Disordered eating
- Ending a relationship
- Family problems
- Fears about a confrontation with a friend, family member, or a professor
- Feeling anxious
- Feeling depressed
- Feeling lonely or isolated
- Lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem
- Sexual assault
- Test anxiety or “freezing-up” on a test
- Thoughts about self-injury or suicide
- The death of a friend or family member
- Unwanted pregnancy or a pregnancy scare
If you notice a student is struggling:
WATCH ⇒ ASK ⇒ LISTEN ⇒ SUPPORT
Take note of what changes in behaviors, emotions, or appearance you or others have noticed.
It helps to find out more about the nature of the problem your student is experiencing. Some people will be relieved that you have noticed that they are struggling with something. There is a possibility that the student may deny that anything is wrong or that they have changed in any significant way. If this is the case, perhaps they are not yet ready to talk about the issue. It may help for you to list behaviors or specific examples of what you or others have noticed. If this is the first time that you have expressed your concern to them, perhaps it may help them to know that you have noticed changes. If you have approached the person several times already or if the issue is of a serious nature (e.g., suicide, self-injuring behaviors, or other potentially life-threatening behaviors), you may want to consult a professional to assist with your approach.
Generally speaking, people feel better when they know that someone cares about them and when someone listens to what they have to say. As simple a task as it seems, listening can actually be very challenging for some people to do. It is very tempting to switch into problem-solving mode, to give advice, or to provide soothing statements (i.e., “everything will be okay”). While these may be well-intended, helpful, or even appreciated, it is important to take the time to fully listen to the person before acting. It is often helpful to paraphrase what you are hearing them say. This allows them to know that you are hearing them accurately.
Supporting a student who is in trouble or is struggling with a challenge can be as simple as listening to them and helping them talk about their problem. Support can also involve helping them get connected to the professional resources that can assist them. The Counseling Center offers a broad range of services to help students in need. If you are unsure how to handle a situation for supporting a student in need, we encourage you to consult with the clinical staff of the Counseling Center. A consultation with a professional (either on the phone or in person during our Initial Consultation Hours) may help clarify important issues, investigate possible ways to confront the student, and generally help you feel more confident in your approach.