Faculty Guide for Helping Students in Distress
As a member of the faculty or staff here at Butler you are constantly interacting with students. At times you may encounter students who are in crisis situations or who are under inordinate amounts of stress. Faculty and staff are not expected to provide personal counseling to students. Rather, faculty and staff play a vital role in promoting help-seeking behavior and encouraging students to use campus resources, including facilitating a referral to the appropriate campus resource. Faculty and staff are often the first people to recognize when a student is in distress and to reach out to that student. We encourage you to speak directly to students when you sense that they are in academic or personal distress. Openly acknowledge that you are aware of their distress, that you are sincerely concerned about their welfare, and that you are willing to help them explore their options.
COLLEGE STUDENTS AND STRESS
College students often experience high levels of stress, conflict and personal challenges that can derail them psychologically and affect their physical and mental health, behavior, and academic performance. Some students lose their ability to cope, contemplate dropping out of college or even experience thoughts of harming themselves or others. Although most students cope successfully with the daily stresses of college life, some can become very distressed and seek out your assistance. You often get the first glimpse of a student in trouble.
FAQ ON DEALING WITH STUDENTS IN DISTRESS
What are some signs that a student may be in distress?
A student in distress may not be disruptive to others, but may exhibit behaviors which indicate something is wrong. Behaviors may include:
- Serious grade problems or a dramatic change in performance.
- Excessive absences or inconsistent attendance.
- Unusual or changed patterns of interaction
- Other characteristics that suggest the student is having trouble managing stress (e.g., depressed, lethargic, sleeping during class, marked change in personal dress and hygiene).
- Repeated requests for special consideration, such as deadline extensions, especially if the student appears uncomfortable or highly emotional while disclosing the circumstances prompting the request.
- New or repeated behavior which interferes with the instructor’s effective management of the immediate environment.
- Unusual or exaggerated emotional responses which appear inappropriate to the situation, irritability or outbursts of anger.
How should I respond to a student that is troubled or showing signs of distress?
For students who are mildly or moderately troubled, you can choose to respond to them in the following ways:
- Deal directly with the behavior/problem according to classroom protocol
- Address the situation privately with the individual.
- Consult with a colleague, department head, Vice President of Student Affairs office, the counseling office or campus health services.
- Refer the student to an appropriate campus resource. See referral numbers in this guide for help.
What types of warning signs are most serious?
Severely troubled or disruptive students may exhibit behaviors that signify an obvious crisis and that necessitate emergency care. Examples include:
- Highly disruptive behavior
- Inability to communicate clearly
- Loss of contact with reality
- Stalking behaviors
- Inappropriate communications
- Overtly suicidal thoughts
- Threats to harm self or others.
How should I respond to a disruptive student?
Remain calm and know who to call for assistance. Find someone to stay with the student while calls are made. See referral numbers on this guide. Remember that it is not your responsibility to provide the professional help needed for a severely troubled/disruptive student. You need only make the necessary contact on their behalf. When a student expresses a direct threat to themselves or others, or acts in a bizarre, highly irrational or disruptive way, call campus police at 911
In case of an emergency or a situation in which an individual’s health, safety, or welfare of others is threatened, contact Butler campus police immediately at 316-321-7657 or dial 911.
SIGNS AND SOURCES OF DISTRESS
- excessive procrastination
- uncharacteristically poor preparation or performance
- repeated requests for extensions or special considerations
- excessive absence/tardiness
- increased anxiety around exams or deadlines
- disruptive classroom behavior
- extreme defensiveness
- inability to get along with others
- complaints from other students
- references to suicide or harm to others either verbally or in writing
- intense emotion
- inappropriate responses
- difficulty concentrating
- physically harming self
- destruction of property
- anxiety and panic
- inability to communicate clearly
- change in personal hygiene
- dramatic weight change
- frequently falling asleep
- unruly behavior
- impaired speech
- disjointed thoughts, loss of reality
- concerning social media communication
Sources of Distress
- relationship problems/break-ups
- family problems
- grief and loss
- divorce of parents
- academic pressure or failure
- serious illness or injury
- difficulty adjusting to college life
- eating disorders
- acculturation issues
- sexual or physical abuse/assault
- identity confusion
- drug/alcohol abuse
- career indecision
- loss of goal or dream
- unplanned pregnancy
- language barriers
- financial problems
TIPS FOR SUPPORTING AND ENCOURAGING STUDENTS
- Reach out and let them know you are concerned.
- Briefly acknowledge your observations and perceptions of the student’s situation and express your concerns directly and honestly.
- Ask “How are you? I’ve noticed you seem … can I help?”
- Make sure they know you will support them and that help is there when they are ready.
- Normalize their experience. Share a personal story of someone you know who sought out assistance and it helped.
- Let the student know that campus counseling is free, voluntary and confidential. Provide resource information in case they aren’t ready to seek help yet.
- Remind the student that seeking help means they are making a mature choice to manage their problems proactively and use good judgment.
- Avoid labeling the student’s behavior or the issues presented.
- Inform the student about what can be gained by meeting with a counselor or other professional to talk about his or her problems.
- Assist the student in making the appointment or offer to walk the student to the counselor.
- Be open about the limits on your ability to help the student.
If you feel your first attempt to discuss your concerns is unsuccessful:
- Try offering alternatives. “I would feel so much better if you would agree to talk to someone else if I am not the right person for this.” Or “if this isn’t a good time, I am open to talking about this when it’s good for you.”
- Offer to help them connect to professionals.
- Tell them you will keep in touch about your concerns and that you will keep the lines of communication open, checking in regularly.
- If the student appears to be in imminent danger of hurting self or others, contact campus police at 316-321-7657 or call 911.
- Do not promise to keep threats to self or others a secret.
REFERRING A STUDENT TO THE COUNSELING OFFICE
When to refer
In many cases of student distress, faculty and staff can provide adequate help through empathic listening, facilitating open discussion of problems, instilling hope, validating and normalizing concerns, conveying acceptance, giving reassurance, and offering basic advice.
In some cases, however, students need professional help to overcome problems and to resume effective functioning. The following signs indicate a student may need counseling:
- The student remains distressed following repeated attempts by you and others to be helpful
- The student becomes increasingly isolated, unkempt, irritable, or disconnected.
- The student’s academic or social performance deteriorates.
- The student’s behavior reflects increased hopelessness or helplessness.
- You find yourself doing ongoing counseling rather than consultation or advising and feeling yourself pulled in directions that make you uncomfortable.
- The student shows significant and marked changes in behavior and mood.
How to refer
- Speak to the student in a direct, concerned, and caring manner.
- Because students may initially resist the idea of counseling, be caring but firm in your judgment that counseling would be helpful. Also, be clear about the reasons that you are concerned. (“I am worried about your doing okay in school, and I bring this up really because I care about how you are doing.”)
- Be knowledgeable in advance about the services and procedures of counseling services.
- Suggest that the student call to make an appointment, and provide the phone number to counseling services 316-322-3162.
- If the student would prefer to see someone for counseling off campus that can be arranged.
- If you need help in deciding whether it is appropriate to make a referral, call counseling services at 316-322-3162.
Symptoms of depression:
- Feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness
- A deep sense of sadness
- An inability to experience pleasure
- Irregular eating and sleeping
- Difficulties with concentration, memory, and decision-making
- Fatigue and social withdrawal
- Irritation, anxiety or anger
In its less serious form, depression is a temporary reaction to loss, stress or life challenges. It can be alleviated through the passage of time and/or the natural healing effects of social supports, daily routines, and simple coping strategies like distraction, a structured daily schedule, and exercise. Severe or chronic depression requires professional help.
In its most serious form, depression can be accompanied by self-destructive thoughts and intentions as a way to escape from the emotional pain. Research shows that depression is highly responsive to both psychotherapy and/ or medication.
What you can do
- Talk to the student in private.
- Listen carefully and validate the student’s feelings and experiences. (“It is very difficult, tiring, and distressing to feel this sad so often.”)
- Be supportive and express your concern about the situation. (“That you are feeling this sad concerns me greatly, and I am glad you told me about it.”)
- Discuss clearly and concisely an action plan such as having the student immediately call for a counseling appointment. (“I know depression can’t get better as long as it is a secret and is not actively responded to. Counseling can really make a difference here.”)
- Refer the student to counseling
- Be willing to consider or offer flexible arrangements (e.g., extension on a paper or exam), if appropriate, as a way to alleviate stress and instill hope.
- Ask the student if he/she has thoughts of suicide. If so, do not leave the student alone. If possible, walk the student to counseling services. If it is after hours call campus police at 316-321-7657 or dial 911.
- Downplaying the situation. “But you normally seem so happy.”
- Arguing with the student or disputing that the student is feeling depressed. “Your grades are so good. Are you sure you’re really depressed?”
- Providing too much information for the student to process.
- Expecting the student to stop feeling depressed without intervention. “Sad feelings pass and maybe they will for you, too.”
- Assuming that the student has a family or a network of supporters.
Never be afraid to ask a student if they are thinking about hurting themselves.
THE STUDENT WHO MAY BE SUICIDAL
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students.
Suicidal persons are intensely ambivalent about harming themselves and typically respond to help. High-risk indicators include: feelings of hopelessness and futility, a severe loss or threat of loss, a detailed suicide plan, history of a previous attempt, history of alcohol or drug abuse, and feelings of alienation and isolation. Suicidal students usually want to communicate their feelings; any opportunity to do so should be encouraged.
- Be available to listen, to talk, and to show concern.
- Acknowledge that a threat or attempt at suicide is a plea for help.
- Take the student seriously. 80% of those attempting suicide give warning of their intent.
- Walk the student to the college counselor. Do not leave the student alone. If it is after 5pm or on the weekend, contact campus police at 316-321-7657 (Butler of El Dorado) or 316-218-6112 (Butler of Andover)
- Care for yourself. Helping someone who is suicidal can be difficult, demanding, and draining.
- Don’t minimize the situation or depth of feeling, e.g., “Oh, it will be better tomorrow.”
- Don’t be afraid to ask the person if he or she is so depressed or sad that he or she wants to hurt him or herself.
- Don’t overcommit yourself, therefore not being able to deliver on what you promise.
- Don’t ignore your limitations.
Suicide warning signs:
- Talking about suicide
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Extreme mood swings
- Looking for a way to harm themselves
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Changes in behavior and personality
- Loss of interest in friends or hobbies
RESPONDING TO STUDENTS WHO ARE MILITARY VETERANS
Each semester, students enroll at Butler after serving in the armed forces. Some of these students have completed their military obligations, and others are still involved with the military in some way, whether they continue on active duty or are involved with the Reserves or National Guard. Some students are very forthcoming about their veteran status and experiences, while others choose not to reveal their veteran status to faculty, staff, or other students because they believe they may be treated differently or stigmatized by political issues associated with their military service. Like any student, veteran students may encounter obstacles to their academic success. These may include:
- The distraction of potential redeployment.
- Money and family demands.
- Emotional and psychological traumas that result from combat experiences.
- Physical injury, some visible and some invisible, such as a traumatic brain injury.
- Interactions with students, faculty, and staff who are perceived as being insensitive to the experiences student veterans have had.
- Veteran students may be in need of emotional or other health-related support, but some may not be comfortable seeking this support on campus.
- It is also not unusual for student veterans to be reluctant to seek any help due to the need to be strongly selfreliant.
Refer the student to an appropriate campus resource. See referral numbers in this guide for help.
RESOURCES FOR HELPING STUDENTS IN DISTRESS
Title IX Coordinator:
Office of Disability Services:
College Health Services
316-322-3371 BOE 316-218-6282 BOA
Campus Police (24-hour consultation)
Office of Residence Life
Vice President of Student Services
Coordinator of Student Involvement
Butler Food Pantry
Ron Castle BOE 316-322-3353
Sherri Conard BOA 316-218-6373
LOCAL AND NATIONAL RESOURCES FOR HELPING STUDENTS IN DISTRESS
Local Police Emergency
Local 24-hour Crisis Hotline
South Central Mental Health of Butler County
COMCARE of Sedgwick County
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
National Crisis Text Line
text HOME to 741741
The Trevor Project Lifeline
Wichita Area Sexual Assault Center
Family Life Center of Butler County-Safe house
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Sexual Assault Hotline
Veterans Crisis Line
United Way of the Plains
National Human Trafficking Resource Center
SAMHSA National Helpline
Kansas Department for Children and Families