As a person who works closely with students, you know first hand the stresses students face balancing school, work, relationships and personal development. You also know that students sometimes become overwhelmed by their life circumstances. Students often come to faculty members for help with these issues, and faculty members may see students’ problems reflected in their behavior or their work.
At Counseling Services we often receive requests from faculty for assistance in responding to students in distress. Although each situation is different, there are some general guidelines that may help you handle these difficult times.
The hallmark indicator of students experiencing trouble is a change in their routine. Generally, the suddenness, extent, and amount of change reflects the severity of the difficulty. Specific behavioral changes that may be of concern and may merit a referral to Counseling Services include:
- Assignments not being turned in
- Numerous absences
- Reduced participation
- Uncooperative or conflicted interactions
- Behaviors that attract attention (e.g., disruptiveness, fidgetiness, sleeping in class)
- Requesting extensions and being uncomfortable when asked for a reason
- Disregarding class rules
- Excessive emotional content in discussing or writing course material
- Severe communication difficulties
- Mention of suicide or homicide in the content of coursework.
General suggestions for responding to students in distress
- Talk with the student in private. Allow enough time to attend to the student’s concerns.
- Listen to and understand the student’s concerns before giving an opinion or advice.
- If the issue is a student’s conduct in class, use non-judgmental descriptions of the behavior you observed. Let the student know what concerns you and what your expectations are about classroom conduct.
- Ask the student what he or she expects from you and be clear about what you are and are not willing to do in the situation.
- Help the student identify options for action and explore the probable consequences.
- If a student appears to be in imminent danger of hurting self or others, consult WSU Counseling Services or the police immediately. Do not promise to keep threats to self or others secret.