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Faculty are in a unique position to help students in distress. Students hold professors in high esteem and therefore, faculty are in the position to offer them the kind of advice and direction that they will consider carefully. During the process of teaching or advising, you may observe students showing signs of distress. An increasing number of faculty finds themselves the recipients of lengthy and often disturbing messages by email or social media. If you find yourself in the position of receiving personal information from students, they most likely view you as a compassionate and respectful listener. Faculty, for the most part, are not trained counselors, and even if they are, do not function in that role as professors due to the ethical mandates that discourage dual-role relationships. The challenge for most faculty is to define the most appropriate ways to help a distressed student. The following information is designed to assist faculty in making those choices.
Signs and Symptoms Warning of Student Distress
*Refer to the Counseling Center (572-5790), Campus Police (572-5262), Carson Center Crisis Services (568-6386) immediately
"When should I consider intervening?
Students often find the college years stressful, although most handle difficult situations adequately. However, some students do find that the stress becomes unmanageable and disrupts the pursuit of their personal and academic goals. They may need to seek counseling for a variety of reasons, including stress, depression, anxiety, family and relationship issues, physical or sexual abuse, academic difficulties, substance abuse, and issues pertaining to sexual identity. Many instructors become concerned when they observe behaviors that indicate student distress, such as frequently missed classes, social withdrawal, crying in the office, or submitting disturbing material in academic assignments. In general, students who exhibit the signs or symptoms listed, especially if their problems have noticeably compromised their ability to function academically, personally, or socially, are those you may consider referring to the Counseling Center.
Verbal expressions or behaviors that indicate risk for harm to self or others should be considered cause for immediate referral. A faculty member should not attempt to assess degree of risk; only professionals trained in crisis assessment can make this judgment. If you have any suspicions about a student being at risk, you should refer.
"How do I express my concerns to the student?
*Do not assure students of confidentiality. As faculty, you may need to provide information to others who can provide assistance to the student. As well, Title 9 mandates campus reporting of incidents of sexual violence and you may need to disclose this information.
"How can I assist the student who might be reluctant to seek counseling?"
"How can I help a student make an appointment at the Counseling Center?"
"What if the student resists or refuses to seek counseling?"
Unless the student is at risk for harm to self or others, counseling remains a voluntary option for students. Despite every effort on your part to facilitate a referral, the student may choose not to follow through on your suggestion that they seek counseling. If you find yourself in this situation, continue to express your belief that they could benefit from counseling, and keep your offer of help available to the student. Document the whole process for your personal files should you need to verify your assistance to this student in the future.
If a student is at risk for harm to self or others, notify the Counseling Center ASAP! If the student leaves with the intent to disregard your referral or if you believe a student is at risk, but are unaware of the student's current whereabouts, call Public Safety who will then notify the appropriate personnel in order to facilitate an assessment. For after hours emergencies, contact Public Safety for assistance.
"What if I need consultation regarding a student about whom I may have concerns?"
The Counseling Center is available for consultation to faculty and staff. If you have concerns about any student, you may seek consultation by phone or in person. We will seek to assist you while asking you to keep in mind that without their written consent, we may not provide you with any specific information about students who might be clients of the Counseling Center.
Counseling Center Staff: Lammers Hall Annex, X5790
Tammy Bringaze, Ph.D., N.C.C., L.M.H.C., Director
Suzanna C. Adams, M.A., N.C.C., L.M.H.C., Associate Director
Brian Cahillane, J.D., M.S.W., L.C.S.W., Associate Director
Julia Nedry, L.C.S.W., Outreach Counselor
Lisa Campbell, Administrative Assistant
S.T.A.T. (The Student Threat Assessment Team): Combining the knowledge of key campus units, this University resource team meets regularly to coordinate responses to students in distress and to manage intervention with student behavioral concerns.
Other WSU Offices