Students experiencing varying levels of distress may turn to you for help due to your position, status and visibility on campus. Consequently, you may find yourself confronted with a disturbed or disturbing student who needs assistance. The purpose of this page is to offer specific guidelines you can use to help students get the assistance they need.
Step One: Recognizing Troubled Students
The following three levels of behaviors indicate relative severity of distress:
Level One: Although not disruptive to others, these behaviors may indicate that intervention is needed:
- Seriously poor grades or a change from consistently good to unaccountably poor performance
- A student who appears anxious, constantly seeks you out, concerned about grades despite satisfactory performance
- Excessive absences, especially if the student previously demonstrated consistent class and/or work attendance
- Unusual or markedly changed pattern of interaction (totally avoiding participation, excessive anxiety when called upon, dominating discussion, withdrawal from social contact, etc.)
- Depressed mood, excessive crying, inability to make transition to school environment
- Lethargic behavior OR excessive activity and very rapid speech
- Swollen, red eyes
- Marked change in personal dress or hygiene
- Falling asleep in class or at work
Level Two: These behaviors may reflect significant emotional distress with a need for intervention, as well as a reluctance or inability to acknowledge a need for help:
- Repeated requests for special consideration, such a deadline extensions, especially if the student appears uncomfortable or highly emotional during request
- New or consistent behavior which pushes the limits of decorum and which interferes with the effective management of your class, work setting or living arrangements
- An unusual or exaggerated emotional response that is obviously inappropriate to the situation
- A dramatic, unexplained weight loss in a short period
- A student who seems agitated and restless in class, constantly argues with you, and is shunned by classmates.
Level Three: These behaviors usually suggest a student is in obvious crisis and requires emergency intervention:
- Highly disruptive behavior, hostile, aggressive, violent
- Inability to communicate clearly, garbled or slurred speech, disjointed thoughts
- Loss of contact with reality, seeing or hearing things that are not there, beliefs or actions greatly at odds with reality or probability
- Overtly suicidal thoughts, referring to suicide as a current option
- Homicidal threats.
Step Two: Assisting the Troubled Student
In any of these situations, your calmness, willingness to help and knowledge of whom to call is important. You may choose to approach the student or the student may seek your help with a problem. Below are some suggestions which might be helpful in dealing with a troubled student:
Listening and talking (at all levels)
- Give the student your undivided attention, talk to the student when both of you have sufficient times and are in a private place free from disturbance by others
- Be matter of fact. Controlling your emotions may help the student do the same
- Express concern in clear, direct, non-judgmental terms (e.g., "I’ve noticed you’ve been absent from class lately and I’m concerned,” rather than “Why haven’t you been in class?")
- Let the student talk. Listen in a respectful way
- Convey support and understanding by summarizing what you hear the student saying by including both content and feeling ("It sounds as if the experience of moving away from home was a big change and now you’re feeling lonely and isolated.")
When in doubt, consult
Do not get in over your head! It is easy to become "sucked in" to a student's crisis. For instance, a student may develop a level of trust with you and then cross a boundary asking you to keep secrets. Don’t assume you are helping a student by keeping to yourself something disturbing they might have told you. At least call the Counseling Center and consult with us about the situation. Any calls to us will be confidential unless we feel the student or someone else is in imminent danger.
Step Three: Referring to the Counseling Office
All counseling services at the Juniata College Counseling Office are confidential and are NOT included in the students’ records. Also, there is no charge for counseling sessions at the Counseling Office for full-time Juniata College students.
Suggest that the student e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call (814) 641-3353 for an appointment during regular office hours.
Suggest that the student use your telephone to arrange an appointment while the student is in your office. When the call is made from your office, you know that an appointment has been made, and the student is more likely to follow through and get help if he/she makes the call him/herself. Your willingness to let the student handle this part of the process affirms positive coping capacities.
Alternately, you can call the Counseling Center yourself, while the student is in your office, and arrange an appointment. Indicate your willingness to the student to provide information about the nature of the problem.
In an immediate emergency, you may decide to accompany the student to the Counseling Center yourself. If possible, a call indicating that you are bringing the student to the Center would be helpful.
After hours, if there is an immediate need, you may call the Dean on Duty pager at 1-800-329-3060.
**In an emergency situation, do not hesitate to contact the Security Office at 641-3636 for assistance.**
You may wish to follow up with the student after the referral has been made to determine if he/she has actually attended counseling. A non-intrusive query should be well received, but it is important to always respect the student’s right to privacy.
If you wish to share information with the Counseling Center about the student you referred, you may do so. Please remember that the counselor-client relationship is confidential, so the counselor will not be able to release information about the student to you without permission, unless a determination has been made that either the student or someone else is in physical danger.
If the behavioral warning signs of a student in distress are detected early and a positive, appropriate referral is made, there is a good chance that the problem can be addressed effectively. As faculty and professional staff members having daily contact with students, you can make a difference.