Recognizing and Assisting Students in Distress

Contact

Tiffiny M. Hughes-Troutman, Ph.D.
Psychologist and Coordinator of Outreach, Consultation, and Professional Development
Counseling Center
tiffiny.hughes-troutman@vpss.gatech.edu

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References

          Kadison, R., & DiGeronimo, T. F. (2005). College of the overwhelmed: The campus mental health crisis and what to do about it. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

          McGrath, R. (2006). Stress. In P. A. Grayson & S. Cooper (Eds.), College mental health practice (pp. 135 – 151).  New York: Routledge.

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Dear Colleagues:

Those of us who work in the Division of Student Affairs may witness or experience the emotional and behavioral consequences of distressed students. Over the past few years, the Counseling Center has seen an increasing trend of students in crisis. While it is best to let trained professionals handle crisis situations, we all can play a very important role in helping a student regain the emotional balance needed to cope and get back on track.

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  • Bill Schafer Bill Schafer
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Dear Colleagues:

Those of us who work in the Division of Student Affairs may witness or experience the emotional and behavioral consequences of distressed students.

Over the past few years, the Counseling Center has seen an increasing trend of students in crisis. To help address this need for formal crisis intervention, the Counseling Center recently received funding for a new psychologist position that will coordinate crisis response and suicide education and prevention. This is in addition to the 3 full-time positions (1 psychologist position, 1 predoctoral intern position, and 1 postdoctoral position for LD/ADHD) that have been added in the last 7 years to help address the increase in the number of new students who are seeking help.

While it is best to let trained professionals handle crisis situations, we all can play a very important role in helping a student regain the emotional balance needed to cope and get back on track. The following article was developed by Tiffiny M. Hughes-Troutman, Ph.D. psychologist and coordinator of outreach, consultation, and professional development for the Counseling Center, to help us better understand how to recognize and help a student in distress. I urge you to read the following information and consider how you can help a student (or colleague, friend, family member, etc.) in need of professional help.

Why Students Encounter Stress

Students encounter stress for a variety of reasons. Academic demands, family obligations, social expectations, and financial concerns are just some sources of stress. While many students successfully cope with the realities of college life, others become overwhelmed and struggle to manage (McGrath, 2006).  Students can experience a crisis if stress exceeds their coping resources. Although some crises may escalate and result in an emotional or behavioral response, other crises can present students with opportunities for significant personal growth if adequate help is provided (Kadison & DiGeronimo, 2005).


How to Recognize Signs of Distress

Stress is a normal part of every student’s life; however, there may be cause for concern if you notice the following:

Behavioral Changes

  • Any overt expression of thought or intent to harm self or others, including pets
  • Deterioration of physical appearance or personal hygiene
  • Change in demeanor, or student’s mood appears sad, irritable, intense, anxious or tearful
  • Dramatic weight gain or loss
  • Unruly behavior
  • Physically harming self

Academic Problems

  • Disruptive classroom behavior
  • Excessive procrastination
  • Repeated requests for special considerations or extensions
  • Excessive absences or tardiness
  • Missed assignments or appointments
  • Disorganized or erratic performance that is uncharacteristic of the student
  • Essays, art or other written work that contains themes of hopelessness, social isolation, rage, despair, suicide, or homicide

Interpersonal Problems

  • Disruptive social behavior
  • Inability to get along with others
  • Dependency on a faculty or staff member
  • Complaints from other students
  • Asking a faculty or staff member for help with personal problems

Helping a Distressed Student

If you are concerned about a student or if a student reaches out to you for help, here are some suggestions:

  • Talk to the student privately when you’re not rushed or preoccupied
  • Listen to the student and respond to both the student’s thoughts and feelings
  • Maintain clear boundaries and avoid making promises to keep the shared information confidential
  • Avoid judging, evaluating, and criticizing the student
  • Respect diversity and the student’s values
  • Express concern for the student and help the student identify options for action
  • Contact the Counseling Center or Campus Police immediately if the student appears to be in imminent danger of self-harm or harm to others
  • Refer the student to the Counseling Center for help

Making a Referral

Emergency referrals (when students are in danger of hurting themselves or others)

  • Contact the Counselor On Call at any time (24/7) by calling 404-894-2575 or walk the student to the Counseling Center if the crisis occurs within business hours (Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.)
  • Provide the therapist with a description of the situation that has led to your concern
  • The therapist will advise you of appropriate actions to take
  • If the emergency occurs outside of Counseling Center business hours, call 404-894-2575 and follow the prompts to reach the therapist staffing the crisis consultation line

Non-Emergency referrals

  • Encourage the student to contact the Counseling Center directly to schedule an initial appointment
  • Offer the student an opportunity to call from your office if you believe they may need support and encouragement
  • Share with the student that Counseling Center services are free and confidential

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Student Life

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Status
  • Created By: Rachael Pocklington
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Feb 22, 2013 - 10:40am
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:13pm