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Helping Students in Distress


A Guide for Faculty & Staff

You are on the front lines, witnessing the early signs of distress. Students are likely to initially seek assistance from faculty and staff members, particularly when they see you as available and willing to listen. Beyond the support you can provide, there are also professional support services available to students through  counseling services. Counselors are available to meet with students and to consult with Faculty and Staff about providing the help that students may need.


Identifying a Student in Distress

Some signs that indicate a student may be experiencing more stress than he/she can handle are:

  • Marked decline in quality of course work, class participation, quality of papers or test results.
  • Increased absence from class or failure to turn in work.
  • Chronic fatigue and low energy.
  • Attention and memory difficulties.
  • Low self-esteem and prolonged depression, suggested by a sad expression, apathy, weight loss, sleep difficulties, or tearfulness.
  • Nervousness, agitation, excessive worry, irritability and sudden outbursts of anger, threats of harming others, aggressiveness, or nonstop talking.
  • Abrupt or radical changes in behavior or bizarre behavior, speech, writing, or thinking.
  • Abnormal eating or exercise behaviors.
  • Alcohol and other drug abuse.
  • Isolation from others.
  • Extreme dependency on faculty, staff, or community leader including spending much of his/her spare time visiting during office hours or at other times.
  • Marked change in personal hygiene.
  • Talk of suicide, either directly or indirectly, such as, "I won't be around to take that exam anyway" or "I'm not worried about getting a job, I won't need one."

Helping a Distressed Student

The following recommendations can be used if a student approaches you with a problem and/or if you decide to approach a student about any of the previous signs:

  • Talk to the student in private.
  • Ask questions and listen carefully to the student's answers.
  • Show concern and interest.
  • Repeat back the essence of what the student has told you.
  • Specifically state your reasons for concern.
  • Avoid criticizing or sounding judgmental.
  • Suggest the Counseling Center.
  • Ask directly how you can best help them.
  • Explain to the student that the Counseling Center is CONFIDENTIAL.
  • If the student resists help and you are still worried, consult with the counseling staff.
  • Know your limits as a help-giver. When a student needs more help than you are able or willing to give, consider making a referral to a counselor.

Making a Referral

Examples of issues that may prompt referral to a counselor include the following:

  • Social/personal concerns
  • Career choices/selecting a major
  • Stress, Depression, General anxiety
  • Family and financial issues
  • Identity development/individuation
  • Substance abuse
  • Sexual assault
  • Relationship concerns
  • Racial/cultural adjustments
  • Academic difficulties, test anxiety
  • Grief/loss (including loss of a romantic relationship)

Below is some additional information to offer when making the referral:

  • Sessions are confidential! This means that information about students cannot be released to family, friends, faculty, or other offices without the student's written permission. There are limitations to this confidentiality which will be explained to the student in their first session.
  • Counseling records are kept separate from academic records and are protected by law.
  • Counseling services are FREE to Pellissippi State students. 

 With the information you provide, a counselor will contact you to assess the quality of service given.