GoogleTrackingCodeHH
The University of Texas at Austin - What Starts Here Changes The World
The University of Texas at Austin Division of Student Affairs
Navigation Menu
cmhc.utexas.edu

How You Can Help Students in Distress:
A Guide for Faculty and Staff

Business Hours:
Monday thru Friday, 8:00am - 5:00pm
Phone: (512) 471-3515 - Student Services Building 5th Floor
graphic element used to separate content

Why Students Encounter Stress

Students encounter stress for a variety of reasons. Academics, family problems, social situations, work, and financial concerns are just some of the sources of stress. While most students cope successfully with the demands of college life, for some the pressures become overwhelming and unmanageable.

The inability to cope effectively with emotional stress poses a serious threat to a student's overall functioning. The expression of interest and concern by a faculty or staff member may be a critical factor in helping a struggling student reestablish the emotional equilibrium necessary for success in a university environment.

Your willingness to respond to students in distress will undoubtedly be influenced by your personal style and your particular beliefs about the limits of responsibility for helping students mature, both emotionally and intellectually. Some students may be more open to assistance than others. In addition, factors such as class size or the nature of your relationship with the student may also have a substantial effect on the type of interactions you have. It's important to be realistic about what you can offer when making a decision about how you can help a student.

Understanding the Difference between a Student in Crisis and a Student Experiencing Stress

Student in Crisis

A crisis is a situation in which an individual's usual style of coping is no longer effective, and the emotional or physiological response begins to escalate. As emotions intensify, coping becomes less effective, until the person may become disoriented, non-functional, or attempt harm. If a student is in a serious mental health crisis, you might see or hear the following:

  • Suicidal statements or suicide attempts
  • Written or verbal threats, or attempted homicide or assault
  • Destruction of property or other criminal acts
  • Extreme anxiety resulting in panic reactions
  • Inability to communicate (e.g., garbled or slurred speech, disjointed thoughts)
  • Loss of contact with reality (e.g., seeing or hearing things that aren't there, expressing beliefs or actions at odds with reality)
  • Highly disruptive behavior (e.g., hostility, aggression, violence)

Student Experiencing Stress

Stress is a part of every student's life.
However, there are some indicators that, when present over time, suggest that a student's stress level may be a cause for concern. In these circumstances, you might see or hear the following:

  • Uncharacteristic changes in academic performance
  • Uncharacteristic changes in attendance at class or meetings
  • Depressed or lethargic mood
  • Hyperactivity and/or rapid speech
  • Social withdrawal
  • Marked change in personal dress, hygiene, eating and/or sleeping routines
  • Repeatedly falling asleep in class
  • Requests for special consideration, especially if the student is uncomfortable talking about the circumstances prompting the request
  • New or recurrent behavior that pushes the limits of decorum and that interferes with the effective management of your class, work team, etc.
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional response to events

How You Can Help Students in Distress

What To Do When You Suspect a Serious Crisis
If you believe there may be imminent danger of harm to a student or someone else, as evidenced by several of the crisis symptoms listed under the Student in Crisis Section, immediately call the UT Police (471-4441) or the Austin Police Department (911) for assistance. You may also consider walking the student to the Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC). Doing so is an excellent way of showing your concern and support, and helps ensure that the student receives the help they need. CMHC is open Monday through Friday, from 8am to 5pm.

If you are concerned about a student but unsure how to approach the situation, call the Behavior Concerns Advice Line at 512-232-5050 for a confidential consultation. This service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What You Can Do for a Student Experiencing Stress

If you choose to approach a student you are concerned about or if a student seeks you out, here are some suggestions that might be helpful:

  • Talk to the student in private when both of you have time and are not rushed or preoccupied. Give the student your undivided attention. It is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel comfortable about what to do next.
  • Be direct and nonjudgmental. Be direct and specific. Express your concern in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms. For example, say something like "I've noticed you've been absent from class lately, and I'm concerned," rather than "Why have you missed so much class lately?"
  • Listen sensitively. Listen to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non-threatening way. Communicate understanding by repeating back the essence of what the student has told you. Try to include both the content and feelings. For example, "It sounds like you're not accustomed to such a big campus and you're feeling left out of things." Remember to let the student talk.
  • Refer. Point out that help is available, and emphasize that seeking help is a sign of strength. Make some suggestions about places to go for help. Tell the student what you know about the recommended person or service.
  • Follow up. Following up is an important part of the process. Check with the student later to find out how he or she is doing, and provide support as appropriate.

Dealing with students in distress can be a stressful and taxing experience. Be sure to take care of yourself, too. Seek support from colleagues and supervisors. It may also be helpful to talk with a counselor. Counseling services are available free of charge for faculty and staff members currently covered by UT's health insurance benefits through the Employee Assistance Program

If you're interested in counseling options for yourself or a UT colleague, please contact the Employee Assistance Program at 512-471-3366.

If you have concerns about a student, faculty, or staff member in the UT community, contact the 24-hour Behavior Concerns Advice Line at 512-232-5050.


UT Counseling and Mental Health Center
graphic element used to separate content sections
NAVIGATION
Our Services
Crisis Line

Home

Contact

What is Counseling?

About Appointments

Crisis Help

Campus Location

Confidentiality

MY CMHC

Anonymous Self-Assessment

MindBody Lab

Stress Recess

Groups

Medication and Psychiatric Services

Parents & Families

Faculty & Staff

Meet the Staff

About CMHC

Integrated Health

Prevention & Outreach

Get Involved

Questions & Answers

Diversity

Are You New to UT?

CMHC Service Extension Fee

Medical Withdrawals and Course Load Reductions

Forms

Research Consortium

Training

Off Campus Counseling and Mental Health Resources

Clearinghouse Abstracts

TUCCCC 2015 Conference

graphic element used to separate content sections

Staff Intranet

TOP CONCERNS

Stress Management

Sleep

Depression

Alcohol & Drugs

Rejection and Failure

Anxiety

Test Anxiety

Sexual Health

Self Esteem

Rape & Sexual Assault

Building Friendships

Relationship Issues

Suicide

Nutrition

Loneliness

Dating & Relationship Violence

Cultural Adjustment

Perfectionism

How to Help a Friend

Assertiveness

Time Management

Anger

Eating Disorders

Veteran's Issues

Coming Out

Stalking

Grief & Loss

Gambling


hornslink social media icon

Facebook social media icon Twitter social media icon

YouTube social media icon

graphic element used to separate content sections

UT Emergency Information

Web Accessibility

Web Privacy

©2015 The University of Texas at Austin

graphic element used to separate content sections
UT Counseling and Mental Health Center Voices Against Violence
graphic element used to separate content sections
UT Counseling and Mental Health Center Be That One Suicide Prevention
graphic element used to separate content sections

The University of Texas at Austin - What Starts Here Changes The World