As a faculty or staff member, your role and visibility on campus places you in a unique position to recognize signs of distress and provide assistance to a student who is struggling with emotional health concerns. The struggling student may turn to you first, or you may be the first to notice they are having difficulty. Don’t underestimate the importance of your role in supporting a student, no matter how small you imagine that role to be. Simply noticing, connecting with, and referring the student to the support resources that exist in our office and across campus can make a tremendous difference in that student’s life and ability to be successful at Colby. You don’t need to be a mental health expert, or have experience dealing with mental health concerns, you only need to know how to do a few very simple, but extremely valuable things to make a difference.
Below is some helpful information about the warning signs of emotional distress and strategies for how to respond. Please reach out to our office to CONSULT if you have any questions, or are unsure what to do next.
Signs of Distress
Every student experiences some level of distress while at Colby…some problematic, some not. Concern arises when their distress begins to impact their academics, interpersonal relationships, physical health and safety, and day-to-day functioning. While not exhaustive, here is a list of some of the more common warning signs of problematic levels 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!
*As stated above, if you are uncertain if you should be concerned, or are unsure about how to respond, please contact the Counseling Services office to CONSULT.
Strategies for Checking In
We know it can be uncomfortable to approach a student who is struggling emotionally. We can’t always predict how they 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 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 their problems. Remember, your role is not that of a counselor. It’s all about you connecting with the student, 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:
• Find a comfortable and private place to check in and ask if it is ok to talk
• 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 below) would be helpful, make the referral and encourage them to follow through
• If they are open to counseling, but you worry about them taking the step, offer to help them make the appointment while they are sitting with you
• 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. 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 faculty or staff members to want to know if a student followed through with their referral to counseling. We understand this desire to know and encourage you to loop back around with the student to see if they followed through. Checking in both confirms that they did or didn’t, and communicates further your level of care and concern for them.
Additionally, we will talk with the student about getting this information back to you if we know about the referral. We will encourage the student to connect back with you, or, if they sign a release of information allowing us to communicate, we will reach out.
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