We at Counseling Services understand that it can be difficult at times for parents and other family members to be so far away from their student, whether far away means just down the interstate in Freeport, ME, or a 20+ hour flight away in Mumbai, India. It can be particularly difficult when your student is struggling emotionally and all you want to do is be there to comfort and support them. This is normal and we have heard these feelings expressed many times by parents over the years. While we understand and appreciate these feelings, the goal is for us to work together to facilitate your student seeking the help and support they need on campus.
First and foremost, it is important for concerned others, including parents, to be honest and direct about their concerns. A common worry is that talking about difficult topics might “plant a seed” and should be avoided. We find that If you are noticing signs that your student is struggling, it is best to communicate what you are observing right away. Start the conversation around the importance of addressing the concerns before they become more entrenched and difficult to manage. Early intervention improves outcomes and helps to limit the impact on a student’s academic performance and overall health. Below is some helpful information about the warning signs of emotional distress and strategies for how to respond.
Signs of Distress
• Withdrawing from activities, including social
• Skipping classes and not turning in assignments
• Significant changes in sleeping and eating patterns
• Substance abuse
• Depressed mood
• Chronically elevated anxiety/stress
• Hopeless and/or negative comments
• Irritability and/or angry outbursts
• Impulsive or dangerous behaviors
• Engaging in self-injury
• Comments about suicide or suicide gestures or attempts
*Listen to your gut…if you are at all concerned, it’s never a bad idea to check in!
*If you are uncertain if you should be concerned, or are unsure about how to respond, please contact the Counseling Services office to CONSULT, either by phone at 207-859-4490 or email at email@example.com
Strategies for Checking In
We know it can be challenging to bring up such emotionally charged issues, especially at a distance. We can’t always predict how someone will respond and recognize that they could become defensive, or deny there are concerns. Most students tend to respond with openness and appreciation. However, if they minimize, become defensive, or reject your offers of support, that’s ok. They have heard you at some level and that is an important first step.
Additionally, don’t worry about saying things perfectly or having to fix everything. Remember, your role is not that of a counselor. It’s all about you connecting with them, expressing your care and concern, and directing them to the appropriate support services on campus, if additional support is needed. Here are some helpful strategies for checking in:
• Try to find a time to talk for them and you that is not hurried and when each of you have some privacy
• Be direct about your concerns and the observations and/or information behind them
• Be a good listener and check your understanding of what they share
• Ask how you can be helpful
• If you believe counseling, or some other supportive resource (see list at bottom of page) would be helpful, make the referral and encourage them to follow through
• If they have made hopeless comments that lead to you being concerned about their safety, or have made direct statements about suicide, contact our office immediately. We have a counselor on call to help 24 hours/day, 7 days/week who can be reached by calling 859-4490 and hitting “0”. We ask that you contact us immediately in these situations so that a trained mental health professional can determine the level of risk.
It is common for parents to want to know if their student followed through with their referral to counseling, or sought counseling here on their own. We understand this desire to know and encourage you to check in directly with them. Furthermore, if you did make the referral to our office, and/or we believe it would be helpful to have contact with you, we will talk with them about signing a release of information allowing us to communicate with you.
Please remember that the student/client holds the privilege, meaning that outside of immediate concerns for their safety or the safety of others, we can’t communicate with anyone outside our office about the student without their consent, including a simple confirmation around whether or not they have been in to see us.
Important Campus Support Resources
• Counseling Services: 859-4490
• Health Services: 859-4460
• Campus Security: 859-5911
• Dean of Students Office: 859-4250
• Gender and Sexual Diversity Program: 859-4093
• Religious and Spiritual Life: 859-4271