If you are worried about someone, don’t ignore it. You see this person regularly on campus and you can help. Mental health problems don’t have to ruin a person’s life, they are treatable and can be overcome. If ignored they can get worse. Talking with a student about your concerns for their health is not taking responsibility for their safety. Counseling Services is here to help you help your students.
If you have a feeling something is off, I encourage you to trust your instincts and ask them about how they are doing. This question will not make the situation worse. If you feel they are at risk of killing themselves or harming someone else, ask them outright “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” Research suggests that when the safety question is stated clearly, it can greatly reduce the risk of suicide and encourage that person to seek help. Suicidal thinking is a symptom of a mental health condition, we can help them.
Your student may need help if you notice any of these changes:
- A marked change in appearance or behavior — You notice: a student who seemed goal oriented becomes unmotivated, someone who normally cares about their appearance seems to not care anymore, someone normally more modest in appearance or behavior suddenly seems to dress and/or act provocatively.
- An increase in the use of alcohol or drugs — You notice a student who smells of alcohol or drugs, seems intoxicated and/or excessively tired or appears “hung over”.
- Isolating or withdrawing — You notice a student who has been present and punctual with assignments and class participation begins to not turn in assignments and miss class.
I encourage you to try to talk with your student about your concerns. Ask that student to meet with you during your office hours in a more private area. If you have concerns, it is appropriate to keep your door open.
Tips for helpful communication:
- Give them your undivided attention — Don’t answer calls or texts during your conversation with the student and make eye contact without staring.
- Minimize your emotional reactions — You may hear any number of responses, keep your feelings in check and focus on communication. Emoting at your student is not going to help, it will only add to the distress and break down communication. You should consult with a colleague and/or counselor before and/or after you engage the student. Helpers need support too and consultation is always a best practice when dealing with a student in distress.
- Try not to be judgmental — You don’t know for sure what is going on with that person, so approach that person with an open mind and really listen. Just being truly heard can decrease stress and deescalate a situation
- Use observation statements — Examples : “Your appearance has changed, you don’t seem to be your usual self lately.”, “The last couple classes, I have noticed that you smelled of alcohol and your speech was slurred.”, “You haven’t been in class lately, and you haven’t turned in the last two assignments. “
- Use “I feel statements…” — “I feel statements…” are disarming and non-threatening. Examples: “I feel concerned that you may be going through a stressful time right now.”, “I feel concerned that you appear intoxicated in class and it is effecting your studies”, “I’m concerned you may not pass the class if something doesn’t change”
- Use open ended questions — These questions don’t allow for yes or no answers and the answer you want to hear is not embedded in the question. Example: “How’s it been going lately?”, “How have you been feeling lately?”, “Why did you miss the test?”
- DON’T diagnose — You can leave the diagnosing to the counselors. You are trying to get that person professional help not BE the professional help. People tend to shut down communication and trust when they feel judged or criticized.
- DON’T tell them how they should feel — Comments like “Oh it couldn’t possibly be that bad, you are gonna be fine, you can get through this.” seem harmless enough, but statements like these can be discounting. More often these statements are said so that the helper feels better rather than the person needing help.
If you feel your student may be experiencing some mental health problems, stress, or may just need some extra support, please encourage that student to come to Counseling Services or walk them over yourself. It may also be helpful to direct them to this website to familiarize them with our services. If you can’t get them to come, you can always give us a call at 501.569.3185, email us or send us a message in our Questions & Suggestions Box. We can reply to you to offer you support as well. Once we communicate with the person in distress, due to our professional standards of confidentiality, we cannot share any specific information with anyone, unless explicitly permitted in writing from our client. However, we will always take any information about a student that may need our help. We follow up with any tips about students in distress, we can’t force people to counseling, but we can invite them and let them know we care and support them. If they are experiencing a life and death emergency on campus please call DPS 569.3400, if you are off campus call 911.