Recognizing the Signs of Students in Distress

Everyone experiences stress but when reactions are prolonged or severe, students may have trouble coping.

Some common signs of students in distress (the number and intensity of these signs often indicate the level of distress):

  • Marked changes in academic and class performance;
  • Infrequent class attendance;
  • Exaggerated and inappropriate emotional responses;
  • Unusual or changed pattern of interactions with others;
  • Disruptive in-class behavior;
  • Depressed behavior such as lack of energy, deterioration in personal appearance.

Some indicators reflect a more serious problem and require a more immediate response:

  • Inability to communicate clearly due to garbled speech or disconnected thoughts;
  • Loss of touch with reality (e.g. Individuals report hearing or seeing things that do not exist or express beliefs that are in conflict with reality);
  • Talking about committing suicide (e.g. "I can't go on... There's no reason to continue");
  • Threatening to seriously harm or even kill someone.

Responding to a Student in Distress

In non-emergency situations, you might decide not to intervene if the problems seem minor or temporary. When choosing to speak to a student, the following guidelines may be of help:

  • Speak to the student privately whenever possible.
  • Focus on behaviors that you notice are different. Instead of saying, "You seem depressed," say, "I have noticed that your assignments aren't up to par lately. Is something going on?"
  • Indicate your willingness to help, but recognize your limits. It is not your job to become the student's counselor. When in doubt about a situation call Counseling and Consultation Services (CCS) and consult with a staff member.

Emergencies are rare, but they can occur. If an occasion should arise when you are dealing with a student who appears to be disorientated, not grounded in reality, out of control or engaging in strange behavior, there are several helpful tips to consider:

  • Safety first! If you are concerned about safety (either yours or others), contact Illinois Wesleyan Security at (309) 556-1111 first.
  • Approach the situation calmly. This will allow you to be more effective and may help the student become less anxious or agitated.
  • Hear the student out. You can always consult with CCS staff via phone while the student is with you. Call CCS at (309) 556-3052.
  • Contact an appropriate person or agency for assistance. This may be another faculty member, your department chairperson, Illinois Wesleyan Security at (309) 556-1111, the Dean of students Office at (309) 556-3111 or CCS staff at (309) 556-3052. After 4:30 pm, call Security at (309) 556-1111 and ask them to call the on-call person within the Division of Student Affairs.

If possible, do not leave the student alone. If for some reason you must leave the student, have someone stay with the student until you return or until help arrives. Avoid having too many people around, which could embarrass or agitate the student and make the situation more difficult.

Referring a Student to Resources

Sometimes, however, a student will have problems that you are not comfortable addressing. In these situations, the best and most appropriate option will be to refer the student to others who can help provide assistance.

When you believe a referral to CCS may be the best option, consider these guidelines:

  • Be direct! Say something like, "It sounds like this problem is complicated and I think it might be more useful to talk to a professional counselor."
  • Assure the student that the objective perspective, by a trained counselor, may be exactly what is needed to help resolve the problem.
  • Students may be hesitant to contact a mental health professional. Try to normalize the process. Let the student know that you don't think he/she is seriously disturbed. We all face situations in life when we need support of some kind.
  • In addition to CCS, other resources could be useful, including contact with family members, friends, clergy and other campus and/or community agencies. Consulting with a CCS staff member can assist the student in identifying appropriate referral resources.
  • If a student seems reluctant to utilize CCS or other services, suggest that he or she call PATH (Providing Access to Help) at (309) 827-4005. PATH offers a 24-hour telephone help line that is often seen as less threatening because it is anonymous.

The following is a list of some CCS resources that may be helpful when making a referral for academic or personal problems.

Counseling and Consultation Services

Telephone: (309) 556-3052

Location: Lower Level, Magill Hall (right next to Arnold Health Services)

Fax: (309) 556-1042

Website: www.iwu.edu/ccs

Hours: Monday-Friday (8 am-12 noon and 1 pm-4:30 pm)

CCS is the only on-campus mental health agency for Illinois Wesleyan University students. Its primary goal is to assits students in order to enhance and facilitate their educational experience at IWU.

CCS staff members are professional psychologists, counselors and social workers. All staff members have been trained to assist students with their personal, educational and career needs, and have special expertise in dealing with the variety of problems persented by college students. CCS maintains total confidentiality in all matters discussed with students.

Initial Intake Appointments

A student seeking services from CCS first meets with a counselor for an initial assessment. During the initial assessment the counselor will talk to the student about his or her concerns and about what type of service or referral will best meet the student's needs. Initial assessment interviews are available by appointment.

Crisis Intervention

During CCS business hours, a crisis counselor may be contacted by calling  (309) 556-3052. Advance notice of emergency visits helps CCS arrange for a counselor to be available when the student arrives. After 4:30 pm, a professional from the Division of Student Affairs can be reached by contacting Illinois Wesleyan Security at (309) 556-1111 or PATH at (309) 827-4005.

Consultation

Clinical staff at Counseling and Consultation Services (CCS) are available for consultation services for students, faculty and staff. Consultation can focus on a concern for an individual student, behavior issues in the classroom, and on specific topics of concern (eating concerns, depression/anxiety, time management, how to address a student who is not completing assignments, etc.). CCS also offers workshops and groups covering many topics on issues affecting students to which you can refer students. You may also contact CCS to discuss the design and presentation of a workshop specific to your classroom needs. Please call CCS at (309) 556-3052, if you would like to discuss this further.

Ongoing Services

CCS provides a number of services to students. Group counseling is available and is recommended for students dealing with interpersonal concerns and self-esteem issues. Individual counseling is available to students who are currently enrolled in classes at IWU. In individual counseling, a student meets with a counselor to discuss personal concerns and problems. The topics students talk about vary but often include depression, anxiety, stress, relationships, identity issues, alcohol and drug use, and grief and loss issues.