Supporting Students in Distress

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Faculty members are not expected to take on the role of therapist or counselor. However, as integral members of the campus community and important partners in CSU’s commitment to overall student welfare, instructors can help notice, support and/or refer students in distress. There are strong systems in place which make up a comprehensive network of support for a struggling student or for a faculty member seeking consultation or collaboration regarding a struggling student.

Check in. "How are you doing?"

  • Talk to the student. Find a time and place to talk in private when you are able to give the student your undivided attention. Ask to keep your door propped open and let a colleague know if that feels supportive.
  • Often it is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel heard and elicit effective problem solving. Allow for silence, sometimes what comes next is highly productive.
  • Be direct, specific and nonjudgmental. 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?”
  • Avoid “why” questions that can prompt defensiveness or imply judgement. Focus on “how” questions, “how are you coping”, “how are you accessing resources to support you through this hard time”. This is both empowering and persuasive.
  • 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 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.

Suggest Resources. “Have you tried getting help? I am happy to help you find some resources."

Refer. Point out that help is available, and emphasize seeking help is a sign of strength. Make suggestions about places to go for help. (See University Resources). Tell the student what you know about the recommended person or service. Your endorsement of a campus office will boost help seeking behaviors.

Encourage Self-Care. "What are you doing to take care of yourself?"

  • Focus on coping. Stress is common and normative. Pivot the conversation to coping and resources early and often.
  • Follow up. This is an important part of the process. Check with the student later to find out how they are doing. Without prying, you can easily ask if they’ve found the support necessary to resolve their issues. Refer again if necessary.
  • Be flexible. Be willing to consider flexible arrangements, such as extensions on assignments, exams or deadlines.
  • Empower students. Encourage students seek accommodations with the Student Disability Center and access Student Case Management to seek resources to solve their problems and enable their best learning.

Avoid...

  • Minimizing the student’s concerns (e.g., “Your grades are so good.”).
  • Providing so much information that it overwhelms the student.
  • Suggesting that students do not need treatment, or that their symptoms will stop without it.
  • Denying or ignoring your observations of the student’s academic or behavioral changes.
  • Assuming students are fully aware of the sources of their stress or know effective coping strategies.

Know your limits. “This sounds like something outside of my scope.”

  • Recognize your boundaries and limitations. Whenever necessary, get help determining a course of action. Say something like, “I know (name) in (department/office) who has helped other students with similar circumstances. I think we should consult with them.”
  • Report your concerns. When concerns of student well-being has been reported or you are unsure, make a Tell Someone Report. Call or go online to share your concerns with University officials to help make a plan and mobilize resources.
  • Get additional training. Work with your department head to host a Notice and Respond: Assisting Students in Distress workshop for you and your colleagues.
  • Know your role. You can also request trainings and consultation directly from the Office of Support Safety and Assessment about Title IX reporting and your role as a Responsible Employee.