The mental health needs on campus are increasing as well as the severity of issues our students are encountering.
PACS is seeing a growing number of students with mental illness, trauma histories, substance abuse, and chronic long-term relational problems. Students coming for help are often presenting in crisis and in need of academic intervention in order to continue at UNH.
While PACS is the primary mental health facility for UNH students, all offices and departments have contact with students with mental health issues. We have a shared responsibility to respond to students with care and compassion for their personal well-being as well as concern for their academic success. The PACS staff regularly consult with faculty, staff, parents, and significant others about students of concern and how to support them. We also train departments, upon request, on how to support students that are experiencing distress.
The information below explains when professional counseling might be beneficial to a student and how to make a referral to PACS. The concept of professional confidentiality and information about other types of referral and consultation services are also discussed.
Please refer to UNH’s Faculty and Staff Recognize, Respond, Refer, and Reach Out guide for information about accessing other supportive resources on campus.
Please Note: PACS does not provide notes or letters to professors regarding class attendance or other mental health matters.
A caring faculty or staff person may be in a unique position to identify a student who is struggling. As such, you are in a position to listen supportively and refer students in distress to PACS.
PACS provides consultation services for students, staff, professionals and faculty. These consultations often focus on a concern for an individual student, behavioral problems occurring in classrooms and residence halls, or other issues that may have important psychological dimensions. The staff will attempt to respond to requests for consultation as soon as daily schedules permit. Please tell the receptionist if you think the situation is an emergency requiring immediate attention.
The reasons that individuals seek help from mental health providers are as varied as people themselves. An individual’s motives for seeking counseling might range from wishing to solve a particular problem to desiring to enhance their own personal development. In any case, the following indicators might be useful in making a decision about referring a student to PACS. To prevent possible over-interpretation of a single or an isolated behavior, it is probably advisable to look for clusters of signs which appear at approximately the same time. When in doubt, don't hesitate to consult with a PACS staff member.
Five Signs of Emotional Suffering
Here are the five signs that may mean someone is in emotional pain and might need help:
You may notice sudden or gradual changes in the way that someone typically behaves. People in this situation may behave in ways that don’t seem to fit their values, or the person may just seem different.
Uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or moody
You may notice the person has more frequent problems controlling their temper and seems irritable or unable to calm down. People in more extreme situations of this kind may be unable to sleep or may explode in anger at a minor problem.
Withdrawal or isolation from other people
Someone who used to be socially engaged may pull away from family and friends and stop taking part in activities that used to be enjoyable. In more severe cases the person may start failing to make it to work or school. Not to be confused with the behavior or someone who is more introverted, this sign is marked by a change in the person’s typical sociability, as when someone pulls away from the social support typically available.
May neglect self-care and engage in risky behavior
You may notice a change in the person’s level of personal care or an act of poor judgment. For instance, someone may let personal hygiene deteriorate, or the person may start abusing alcohol or illicit substances or engaging in other self-destructive behavior that may alienate loved ones.
Overcome with helplessness and overwhelmed by circumstances
Have you noticed someone who used to be optimistic and now can’t find anything to be hopeful about? That person may be suffering from extreme or prolonged grief, or feelings of worthlessness or guilt. People in this situation may say that the world would be better off without them, suggesting suicidal thinking.
Adapted from The Campaign to Change Direction (2017)
Aside from signs or symptoms that may suggest the need for counseling, there are other guidelines which may help a faculty or staff member define the limits of their involvement with a particular student’s problem. A referral is usually indicated in the following situations:
- A student presents a problem or requests information which is outside of your range of knowledge
- You feel that personality differences which cannot be resolved between you and the student will interfere with your helping the student
- The problem is personal, and you know the student on other than a professional basis (friend, neighbor, relative, etc.)
- A student is reluctant to discuss a problem with you for some reason
- You do not believe your contact with the student has been effective
When you have determined that a student might benefit from professional counseling, it is usually best to speak directly to the student in a straightforward fashion that will show your concern for their welfare. It is not advisable to attempt to deceive or trick the student into seeking counseling. Make it clear that this recommendation represents your best judgment based on your observations of the student’s behavior. Be specific regarding the behaviors that have raised your concerns, and avoid making generalizations about the individual.
Except in emergencies, the option must be left open for the student to accept or refuse counseling. If the student is skeptical or reluctant for whatever reason, simply express your acceptance of those feelings so that your own relationship with the student is not jeopardized. Give the student the opportunity to consider other alternatives by suggesting that they might need some time to think it over. If the student emphatically says “no,” then respect that decision, and again leave the situation open for possible reconsideration at a later time. If the student agrees to the referral, the student may call or go to PACS to make an appointment. We must speak directly to the student to schedule an appointment. The student’s first contact with PACS will typically be an initial consultation in which the student and counselor meet to make a decision about the type of help needed. Initial consultation appointments are usually scheduled within a week of the student’s request to be seen at PACS. Students requiring immediate help because of psychological difficulties are seen the same day on an urgent basis. Finally, you should follow up with the student at a later date to show your continued interest even if they did not accept your attempted referral.
In emergency situations involving students who are unwilling or unable to seek help on their own, please call 911.
It is important for members of the University community to understand that all sessions with mental health professionals at PACS are confidential in nature. Information obtained during counseling sessions cannot be released except upon the student’s written request, in circumstances which would result in clear danger to the individual or others, reports of child or elder neglect/abuse, reports of hazing, or as may be required by other laws; PACS adheres very strictly to this policy.
If a faculty or staff member is interested in student’s contact with PACS, information can best be obtained directly from the student. It should be noted that students are not bound by the same promises of confidentiality that professional counselors are obliged to keep. PACS clinicians do not provide notes or have direct contact with faculty or staff regarding specific students; communications about specific students generally take place through the Dean of Students.
Sources of assistance for students are not limited to professional counseling. They also may include referral to a physician, UNH Health & Wellness, the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP), Housing & Residential Life, the Center for Academic Resources (CFAR), the University Advising Center, their parents, a hall director, or a member of the clergy, etc. For this reason, knowledge of persons, offices, and agencies that can be of service to the student is of primary importance. Students become discouraged and frustrated when they feel passed along from office to office without receiving the assistance they need. If you are unsure of the appropriate place to send a student to for specific information or help, call PACS at (603) 862-2090 (Relay NH: 1-800-735-2964) for information or consultation about the various sources of help on campus.
PACS does not provide ongoing counseling services for University employees, faculty, and staff. The University provides an Employee Assistance Program for all employees and their family members. Employees can call 1-800-424-1749, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.