Students often seek help from faculty or staff whom they know and trust well. In this position, you may often be the first to notice signs and symptoms of distress, which can seriously disrupt academic progress, personal relationships and daily behavior. In general, there is no simple “rule of thumb” to determine students or employees who might be distressed and in need of help — but listed below are some guidelines to keep in mind and watch to help someone who might be in distress.

  1. Students who ask you for help with personal problems.
  2. Students who exhibit increasing dependence on a faculty or staff member (by making excessive appointments, hanging around your office or after class) or others.
  3. Students who have trouble getting along with other students, seem to be lethargic, socially isolated, or withdrawn.
  4. Complaints from students about another student.
  5. Students who have erratic or infrequent class attendance .
  6. Students who have excessive procrastination, poorly prepared work, or frequently missed assignments.
  7. Students who seem to have trouble focusing on a specific topic or who show disorganized thinking or speech or other evidence of being “out of touch with reality.”
  8. Students whose behavior is disruptive in class.
  9. Students who speak about problems sleeping or concentrating or who appear labile in mood, tearful, or sad.
  10. Students who express feelings of persecution or strong mistrust of others.
  11. Students who exhibit signs of excessive alcohol or drug use.
  12. Students who exhibit gain or loss of significant amounts of weight.
  13. Students who exhibit abrupt change in manner, style, or personal hygiene.
  14. Students who make any reference, however indirect, to suicide or homicide.
  15. Students who share with you personal information which causes concern or alarm.

Guidelines for Responding when noticing possible distress:

  1. Talk with the student/employee privately to minimize embarrassment or defensiveness.
  2. Share honestly and directly what you have observed and what causes you concern – focusing on the specific behavior or wards which have caused you concern versus diagnosing or inferring.
  3. Be non-judgmental. Communicate care and compassion, while maintaining appropriate boundaries and limits to the faculty/staff/student relationship.
  4. Do not promise confidentiality. Tell the person that you use the utmost discretion if seeking outside assistance and that you would like for the person to partner with you in thinking together about how to proceed.
  5. Consult confidentially with colleagues or others if you feel that you could benefit from another perspective.
  6. Refer the student to counseling services if:
    —  The problems and requests of the person are beyond your level of competence. 
    —  There are personality differences that interfere with your ability to work with the person. 
    —  A person expresses a preference to speak with someone else.

Consider helping the student make an appointment if you think that would be effective and after a few days, follow-up with the student on the referral.