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Concerned About a PSU Student?

Information for Faculty and Staff

Most college students will encounter personal, social, and academic stressors during their educational experience and often discover ways to cope with these stressors. However, some demands can become unmanageable and interfere with the student’s academic progress.  

Faculty and staff play an essential role in helping students with emotional distress for two reasons:

  1. You are often the first to notice when a student is in distress; and

  2. Students often turn to informal advisers first for help; you may be the first point of contact for students needing support, guidance, and/or referral.

UCS has developed a list of useful tips to assist you and your efforts in responding to students who may need assistance.

 

Identifying a Student in Distress

A student should be referred to either UCS or SHS whenever you believe their difficulty has gone beyond his or her capacity to manage the situation, and beyond your own experience and expertise to help.  Such a referral may likely be brought on by a change in a student’s behavior and/or declining academic performance.  Signs may include:

Concerning Behaviors:

  • Change in personal hygiene
  • Dramatic changes in weight
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Emotional outbursts or crying
  • Increased anxiety, hyperactivity, or inflated self-esteem
  • Withdrawal from social interactions
  • Agitation, restlessness, or aggressive comments
  • Misuse of alcohol or drugs

Academic Concerns:

  • Worsening test performance
  • Excessive absences or tardiness
  • Decreased quality of work
  • Reduced class participation
  • Repeated requests for favors or extensions on homework
  • Failing to meet deadlines/due dates
  • Frequent requests for appointments that go beyond that of a typical student
  • Excessive demands or dependency on faculty and staff

Stressful Life Events:

  • Relationship difficulties/conflicts
  • Traumatic loss of a friend or family member
  • Being a victim of assault or abuse
  • Conflicts with roommates or residential living staff

References to Suicide or Homicide:

  • Verbal or written references to suicide
  • Referencing feelings of hopelessness
  • Noting they feel like a burden, not belonging, or trapped
  • Homicidal threats

A single sign may not be cause for concern; however, changes that are noticeably severe or chronic may be indicative of a more serious problem. 

 

Assisting a Student in Distress 

First, differentiate between urgent and non-urgent situations. If a student is an imminent risk to themselves, see What to Do in a Crisis. Otherwise, you may choose to address your concerns with the student directly. Your attention and concern may be enough to help the student manage their situation. If the situation is non-urgent, these tips may be useful to remember: 

  • Be available, listen carefully, and talk with the student. Make the effort to communicate and connect with the student. Your willingness to listen shows that you care. 
  • Be aware of your physical surroundings. Try and find a location that is private and free of distractions.
  • When you meet with a student, put aside all other work in order to give him or her your full attention.
  • Communicate acceptance to the student. Communicate in an "adult-adult" manner rather than resorting to a "parental" or "superior-subordinate" approach.
  • Help the student clarify what might be causing thier distress and the impact it is having on his or her life. 
  • Encourage the student to assume responsibility for managing his or her situation.
  • Encourage the student to think of coping methods that have been effective in the past.
  • Take time to follow-up with the student.
  • If at follow-up the student has made no progress managing their current situation, they may need a a referral to UCS, SHS, or another appropriate agency on or off campus.

We don’t expect faculty and staff to provide counseling, but opening up a dialogue might mean the difference between a person receiving help or not receiving help. A student should be referred to either UCS or SHS whenever you believe his or her difficulty has gone beyond their capacity to manage the situation and beyond your own experience and expertise to help. Call us at 620-235-4452 or visit us at the Bryant Student Health Center.

 

What to Do in a Crisis

Distiguishing between a "theoretical" discussion of suicide and the personal anguish of "not knowing if life is worth living" can be difficult. If you're uncertain about a student's intentions, simply ask them to clarify their thoughts. There is no harm in discussing the topic of suicide in an open manner. If in the course of your conversation with a student, the how, when, and/or where of suicide is specified, you should immediately refer for help (this includes both verbal and/or written threats). Here is a list of potential contacts; who you contact first may vary depending on the specific situation or time of day:

  • Crawford County Mental Health Center: 620-232-SAVE (7283) (available 24 hours)

  • Via Christi Hospital, Emergency Department: 620-232-0123 or 911 (available 24 hours)

  • University Counseling Services: 620-235-4452 (Monday–Friday, 8:00 A.M.–4:00 P.M.)

  • Campus Police: 620-235-4624 (available 24 hours)

If this crisis occurs during regular business hours (8:00 A.M. – 4:00 P.M.), walk the student to UCS in the Bryant Student Health Center. Once UCS is aware of the situation, a staff member will assess the student’s safety.

 

How to Make a Referral to University Counseling Services

A student should be referred whenever you believe their difficulties have gone beyond their capacity to cope with the situation and beyond your own ability to be helpful. Some students will initially find some relief when provided the opportunity to discuss their concerns. However, other students may feel more comfortable talking with a third party. Here are some points to remember:

  • For non-emergent situations, it may be best to call UCS on behalf of the student while they are still with you. The student can then be given an appointment and any further instructions.

  • If you have more serious concerns about a student’s willingness or ability to follow through with an appointment, it may be best to walk the student to the UCS office.

  • For students who prefer off-campus resources, we can provide you with additional referral information. Off-campus resources can also be found on our website by clicking here.

  • If you consider the situation to be an emergency, call 911 before contacting UCS. Do not delay attending to issues that concern safety.

If you would like to discuss any general or specific student concerns, please contact us at 620-235-4452 or stop by UCS at the Bryant Student Health Center (1801 S. Broadway). Our office hours are Monday - Friday, 8:00 A.M - 4:00 P.M. For emergency assistance, call 911.

 

Maintaining Boundaries

It’s important for faculty and staff to take steps to ensure a distressed student receives assistance. Even so, it's equally important to have a set of boundaries. Appropriate boundaries can prevent faculty and staff from getting "in too deep" or feeling burned-out. You may need to be extra mindful of your boundaries. Here are some common signs that a student may need additional help:

  • The student is contacting you more than that of a typical student.

  • You find yourself speaking with the student on the weekends or over holidays more than that of a typical student.

  • You are the student’s sole source of support.

  • The student’s difficulties have gone past your level of expertise.

  • You are beginning to lose interest in helping the student or you’re declining or avoiding meeting with the student.

  • Helping the student is beginning to have a negative impact on your job or social life.

  • You or others in your office frequently ask yourselves what to do.

No matter how much support you offer, the student ultimately has to make the decision themselves to seek help. If you have concerns, UCS can provide assistance on how to approach a student, most effectively communicate with a student, or directly intervene with a student. Call to speak with a UCS staff member Monday – Friday, 8:00 A.M. – 4:00 P.M. at 620-235-4452.