Students in Distress

The college years can be times of discovery and excitement, and those of us who work with students strive to incorporate these elements in our teaching. At the same time, the personal and intellectual development that students experience in their college years can be stressful. They leave the security of home, may experience loves and losses, or suffer from alcohol abuse, sexual assault, family problems, and deaths of loved ones.

Students - or anyone for that matter - can experience a crisis if stress exceeds their coping resources. Most crises can be resolved successfully within a few weeks, but some cannot. Although some crises may escalate and place affected individuals in precarious, even dangerous situations other crises can present students with opportunities for significant personal growth, especially when help is provided.

As a faculty member, you can assist students in avoiding dangerous situations and refer them to appropriate sources of help. The following information will provide you with some guidance in this process.

What to Look For:

Academic indicators:

  • Deterioration in quality of work
  • Missed assignments
  • A drop in grades
  • Repeated absences from class
  • A negative change in classroom performance
  • Disorganized or erratic performance
  • Continual seeking of special accommodations (late papers, extensions, postponed examinations, and the like)
  • Essays or creative work that indicate extremes of hopelessness, social isolation, rage, or despair

Personal/Interpersonal Indicators:

  • Tearfulness
  • Unprovoked anger or hostility
  • Excessive dependency
  • Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Expressions of concern about a student in the class by his/her peers
  • A hunch or gut-level reaction that something is wrong
  • Direct statements indicating distress, family problems, or other difficulties
  • Exaggerated personality traits (e.g., more withdrawn or more animated than usual)

Physical Indicators:

  • Deterioration in physical appearance
  • Visible changes in weight
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Coming to class bleary-eyed, hung over, or smelling of alcohol
  • Appearing sick or ill

Safety/Risk Indicators:

  • Any written note or verbal statement that has a sense of finality or a suicidal flavor to it
  • Statements to the effect that the student is "going away for a long time"
  • Severe depression
  • Any history of suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • Giving away of prized possessions
  • Self-injurious or self-destructive behaviors
  • Any other behavior that seems out of control
  • Essays or papers that focus on despair, suicide, or death

What You Can Do:

During normal working hours, you and/or the student may consult with a Counseling Center counselor by calling us at 862-2090/TTY: 7-1-1 or 800-735-2964 (Relay NH), Monday through Friday, 8 am to 5 pm.

Students in crisis after 5PM or on the weekends may call 603-862-2090 (TTY: 711 or 800-735-2964) and have the call forwarded to speak with someone at the Center for Behavioral Health at Portsmouth Regional Hospital. In-person evaluations after hours are conducted at Portsmouth Regional Hospital in the emergency room by mental health clinicians.  

Issues to Consider:

Avoid making sweeping promises of confidentiality, particularly if a student represents a safety risk to him- or herself or others. Students who may be a danger to themselves or others need swift professional intervention, and assurances of absolute confidentiality may get in the way.

It is acceptable to stay "in role" as a faculty member. You do not have to take on the role of counselor. You need only to watch and refer.