When a faculty or staff member is concerned about a student…
Faculty and staff members of the Southern community interact with and engage students on multiple levels and for multiple reasons. Some interactions may be brief and routine while others may be frequent and personal. No matter what the level of engagement a faculty or staff member has with a student, these interactions provide a unique opportunity to intervene when a student is in or heading towards distress.
Faculty and staff members are often the first to know when a student needs additional support and therefore have the opportunity to contribute to a student’s well-being through the submission of a Student Support Team referral. The information contained in the referral may be the activating even that gets the student connected to other campus resources, or may be an important piece of information to add to a previously submitted report.
You do not have to take on the role of a counselor or diagnose the student. You need only notice signs of distress and communicate these to Counseling Services or the SST. If you choose, you may also have a direct conversation with the student to gather a little information, express your concern, and offer resource information.
A note about safety…
If a student exhibits any indication that he or she may pose an immediate danger to him or herself or others, this should be addressed right away. In these cases, you should stay with the student and contact Counseling Services (203) 392-5475 or University Police (203) 392-5375. You can also walk the student to Counseling Services, located in Engleman Hall B219, during the hours of 8:30am-4:30pm. All afterhours urgent safety concerns should be directed to University Police or 911.
Indicators of student distress…
Often, there are indicators that a student is experiencing distress long before a situation escalates to a crisis. To assist Southern’s students in maintaining their mental health and maximizing their intellectual growth, it is important to identify difficulties as early as possible. The presence of only one of the following indicators alone does not necessarily mean that the student is in crisis or experiencing severe distress. However, the more indicators you notice, the more likely it is that the student needs help. When in doubt, consult with the Dean of Students Office or a member of the Student Support Team (SST).
- Repeated absences from class
- Missed assignments or appointments
- Deterioration in quality or quantity of work
- Written or artistic expression of unusual violence, morbidity or social isolation
- Continual seeking of special provisions (i.e. – extensions or makeup exams)
- Patterns of perfectionism
- Overblown or disproportionate response to grades or other evaluations
- Direct statements indicating distress, family problems, or loss
- More withdrawn or animated than usual
- Expressions of severe anxiety or irritability
- Expression of hopelessness or worthlessness; crying or tearfulness
- Angry or hostile outbursts, yelling, or aggressive comments
- Excessively demanding or dependent behavior
- Lack of response to outreach from faculty or staff members
- Shaking, tremors, fidgeting, or pacing
- Deterioration in physical appearance or personal hygiene
- Excessive fatigue, exhaustion; falling asleep in class repeatedly
- Noticeable cuts, bruises or burns
- Frequent or chronic illness
- Disorganized speech; rapid or slurred speech; confusion
Safety Risk Indicators
- Written or verbal statements that mention despair, suicide, or death
- Severe hopelessness, depression, isolation, or withdrawal
- Statements to the effect that the student is “going away for a long time” or “going to end it”
Tips for identifying students who need help…
The following is a list of things to consider if you encounter a student who needs assistance or displays troubling behavior.
- Safety first – The welfare of the student and the campus community is the top priority when a student displays threatening or potentially violent behavior. Do not hesitate to call for help. The most effective means of preventing violence is providing coordinated professional help and follow-up care.
- Trust your instincts – If you experience any uneasiness about a student, or about what to do, it is important to pay attention to those signals.
- Be proactive – Engage students early on, pay attention to signs of distress, and set limits on disruptive or self-destructive behavior. Use the class syllabus to inform students in writing of standards and expectations for classroom conduct and of possible consequences for disruptive behavior.
- Be direct – Don’t be afraid to ask a student directly if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, feeling confused, or having thoughts about harming themselves or others.
- Listen sensitively and carefully – Distressed students need to be seen, heard, and helped. Many students will have trouble articulating their feelings. Use a non-confrontational approach and a calm voice. Avoid threatening, humiliating and intimidating responses.
- Help them get help – Be available. Show interest and offer support. Refer the student to campus departments or offices that have the necessary expertise and personnel to help them. Direct the student to the physical location of the identified resource.
Correspondence with Students of Concern
You are encouraged to address your concerns with the student in question prior to submitting a Student Support Team referral. Speaking openly with the student about your concerns lets the student know that you care about his or her success and that resources are available. It also engages the student in his or her own process and has the potential to create a transparent relationship between the student and helping providers.