It’s a common developmental experience for students to experience changes in their behaviors, moods, values and behaviors during their college years. Some of these changes may be developmentally appropriate, and not necessarily signs that a student is having a psychological problem. Some behaviors, however, may indicate that a student is in distress. You may want to take action if you notice some of the following behaviors in your student:
- Poor academic performance, especially if a change from past academic performance
- Missing classes
- Routinely handing in assignments late, or not at all
- Ongoing confusion or stress about choosing a major
- Preoccupation with good grades, to the point of causing anxiety, social issues, sleep issues, ongoing unhappiness or fear about the future
Emotional and/or Behavioral Issues
- Moods that seem extreme or that change a lot; inappropriate displays of emotions
- Anxiety, constant worry, fears, or preoccupations
- Excessive crying
- Fatigue, lack of interest in activities, lack of energy
- Noticeable changes in personal hygiene
- Preoccupation with food or body image
- Impaired speech or disjointed, confused thoughts; bizarre behaviors
- Aggressive or threatening behavior
- Dramatic weight loss or gain
- References to suicide (either overt or vague, such as “sometimes I think about not being here”)
- Statements about hopelessness or helplessness
- Pessimism about the future
- Difficulties in romantic relationships, such as prolonged grief over a break-up or a preoccupation with a certain individual
- Problems getting along with others, such as friends or roommates
- Avoiding social activities, or not making friends / social connections at school
- “Hiding out” in dorm room
- Avoiding cafeteria or other places where there are a large number of people
- Talk to the student as soon as you notice changes or signs of distress, even though it may be more comfortable to ignore the behavior.
- Try to have the conversation in private, when you have enough time to talk.
- Try to approach the conversation in a relaxed, caring manner and indicate the specific behaviors that are causing you to worry.
- Use “I” statements that focus on what you have noticed or what you are feeling, rather than saying, for example, “You’re doing” or “You’re not..."
- Listen without interrupting. It will be easier for the student to hear what you have to say if you’re willing to listen in return.
- Try to develop empathy for the student's situation. The student is trying to cope with her/his problems in the best way that she/he currently knows how.
- Avoid being critical or judgmental, or reminding the student of how college is “supposed to be.”
- Encourage positive action by collaborating with the student to define the problem and together, brainstorm possible ways of handling it; avoid the temptation to solve the problem for him or her.
- Don’t expect instant results. You have accomplished something if you were able to tell the student how you feel.
- Search the website and/or call support services at the school for additional advice and guidance (See below for resources.)
Know that many students are hesitant to seek counseling because of perceived stigma. (We have a video that addresses myths about counseling here. Let the student know that hundreds of students access our services in a given semester, and it is something they can try without any type of commitment needed. All of our services are confidential, with a few exceptions that a counselor will address in the very first session. Ultimately, the student has to make the appointment themselves, due to their legal status as an adult.
All staff and faculty are encouraged to refer to JCU’s “Responding to Students in Distress” handbook
We understand that you may be interested in the progress of the student you have referred. However, we are bound by the principles of confidentiality as defined by the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (American Psychological Association), the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice(American Counseling Association), and relevant laws.
The following examples clarify this principle:
- Answer your questions concerning steps to take in assisting students in coming to the Counseling Center
- Offer you information about psychological concerns and problems in general
- Say whether a student is being seen here or has kept an appointment
- Discuss the content of sessions
- Discuss the treatment plan or progress
In some cases the student may find it in his/her best interest for information to be shared with a faculty, staff, family member, or significant other. This is done by the student’s own written authorization with clear explanation of the purpose and content of any disclosure. The only exception would be a clinician’s determination of imminent danger to the student or to others.