Recognizing The Distressed Student

Your Role in Assisting Students

You can play an important role in helping students to get the assistance they need. Students often turn to those close to them, including faculty and staff, for support and advice. The relationships you form with students, in the university environment, enables you to get to know them in more than their role as students; you learn about them as persons.

You are not expected to provide psychological counseling, make evaluations, or formulate diagnoses; that is our work in the Counseling Center. However, you can serve as a bridge to us. That bridge is used often as each year we find that 18%-20% of the students we see in the Counseling Center indicate they were referred by a faculty or staff member.

How Distressed Students May Come to Your Attention

There are several ways that you might learn that a student is experiencing some emotional or psychological issues.

*A classmate, roommate, friend, or parent of the student communicates with you. What you may hear is, "I'm concerned about my friend, son/daughter."

*The student sends you an email or makes a phone call that suggests or directly expresses that he/she is having personal problems.

*You directly observe the student's behavior or responses in or outside the classroom; this may come in the form of the student's written work.

*The student approaches you and directly or indirectly communicates to you that he/she has some personal issues they are experiencing.

When any of these contacts occur, you are in a position to decide if/how you want to respond. You may be uncertain about how to proceed; you want to do something but don't know how or what. There may be some questions you will want answered before you talk with a student about personal problems. For example, some common questions are:

*Here's what I've learned, heard, or seen about a student. Should I be concerned?

*What do I say to the student?

*Can someone in the Counseling Center contact the student?

You can certainly call the Counseling Center at 450-3138, in advance of any meeting with a student, and a staff member can offer some guidance for you. We often serve like "coaches" under these circumstances.

The student is likely to have a relationship with you and our advice is for you to talk with the student. We find that students are more likely to act on a referral when it comes from someone they know personally. One action we will not take is to make a "cold contact" of a student as a substitute for your approaching the student first. On occasion, we might make a direct call to a student but we will want to use your name, when we reach the student, as the basis for our call. Also keep in mind that the Counseling Center cannot require anyone to come to us for counseling.

Student Problems at UCA

Each of the last two years we have seen over 700 students for one or more counseling sessions. They present a wide range of concerns.

The five most frequent concerns for students, based on a 64-item checklist that they complete at the Counseling Center, are:

  1. feeling depressed
  2. worrying too much
  3. unhappiness
  4. sleep problems
  5. nervousness

 

"Feeling depressed" is reported by 65% of the students we see in the Counseling Center and 1/3 of these students also report that they had recent thoughts of suicide. Approximately 40% of students report that the issues they are dealing with are having "much" to a "major" effect on their academic performance.

Signs of Distressed Students

There are a multitude of signs or indications that a student is experiencing problems that may be emotional or psychological in nature. Some of the more common are listed here. Few of these will be surprising in that you will have noticed most of them, at one time or another, not only in students but with persons in your own life too.

The origins or sources of the signs can be varied and require assessment or evaluation to determine. For example, attention difficulties may be related to stress, depression, grief due to a loss, medication effects, physical illness, or substance use/abuse. Sometimes a simple inquiry of the student can produce an explanation. This is not to say it is your responsibility to determine the root causes but rather to emphasize that it is important to not make assumptions or jump to conclusions based simply on your observations.

Emotional

Tearfulness, frequent crying

Being irritable or outbursts of anger; loss of temper

Expressions of self-blame, guilt, shame

Sadness

Behavior

Deteriorating classroom performance: exams, presentations, assignments

Excessive absences

Disruptiveness; overly confrontive, aggressive, challenging, disregard for others

Bizarre or unusual statements

Expressions of dark, negative, or jarring themes or images

Slurred speech; irregularities in speech

References to suicide; statements of hopelessness and helplessness

Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were formerly enjoyable

Detached or unconcerned about others

Withdrawing from or avoiding others

Impulsiveness; acting without giving thought to consequences of actions

Cognitive

Difficulty with attention and concentration

Memory is impaired; limited recall; forgetfulness

Rumination; recurrent thoughts or images; can't get something "out of my mind"

Physical

Changes in personal hygiene, appearance

Ongoing appearance of sleepiness including falling asleep in class or at work

Restlessness, frequent body movements

Dramatic weight loss or gain