Syracuse UniversityCounseling Center

Helping Students in Distress

The college years mark an important period of personal, developmental, and psychological growth. During this period, it is common for students to experience various levels of distress and knowing when to get help is critical. You, as a faculty or staff member, may be one of the first to notice when difficulties are negatively impacting a student's well-being.

SIGNS OF MILD/ MODERATE DISTRESS:

  • Declining grades
  • Inconsistent attendance
  • Avoidance, withdrawing
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Exaggerated emotional responses inappropriate to the situation or environment
  • Physical symptoms of distress including: fatigue, muscle pain, headaches, stomach ache, etc.
  • Marked changes in a student's appearance or habits such as, deterioration in grooming or hygiene, dramatic weight loss, marked withdrawal in a normally outgoing person, accelerated activity or speech in a normally reserved person, or marked change in academic performance
  • A student seems to be "perpetually'' tired, anxious, depressed, irritable, angry, or sad

Cultural differences may impact stressors and how symptoms are experienced. Click Here for more informaiton 

HOW TO RESPOND:

  • Allow the student to talk freely
  • Help student to clarify the problem
  • Identify what has worked in the past
  • Identify possible campus resources
  • Encourage student to seek support
  • Do not promise confidentiality
  • Take them seriously; Ask directly about what is going on
  • Respect and accept student’s value system

When helping a student in distress, trust your own insight and reactions.  It is essential to know your limitations and when to seek further assistance from the counseling center 315.443.4715.

SIGNS OF SEVERE DISTRESS:

  • Continued academic difficulties
  • Use of alcohol or other substances interferes with academic or social life
  • Significant interpersonal difficulties (isolation, inappropriate communication, conflicts)
  • Abuse (emotional, verbal, physical, sexual assault, and relationship violence
  • Highly disruptive behavior
  • Loss of contact with reality
  • Threats of violence
  • Self-injury
  • Suicidal thoughts

WARNING SIGNS FOR SUICIDE:

  • Statements indicating suicidal thinking
  • References indicating a desire to die
  • Depression or other mood changes
  • Withdrawal from friends/family
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Impulsiveness or recklessness
  • Anger and anxiety
  • Feeling trapped and hopeless
  • Suffering a major loss or life change
  • Access to self-destructive means

If the student is experiencing severe distress, please call our 24-hour emergency support services 315.443.4715  or during business hours, walk the student to the Counseling Center at 200 Walnut Place to meet with a therapist.

FOR LIFE THREATENING EMERGENCIES

  • Call 911 or 711 from an on-campus phone.
  • Assure safety for the student as well as yourself
  • Unless safety is compromised, please stay with the student until the student gets assistance.
  • Keep all forms of written communication.

Making a referral for non-urgent concerns

HOW TO REFER THE STUDENT TO THE COUNSELING CENTER

When making a referral, you may:

  • Call us directly 315.443.4715 or have the student call us from your office to arrange an appointment.
  • The student may access our online scheduling
  • Agree that the student will contact the office on their own to make an appointment.

Except in emergencies, the option should be left open for the student to accept or refuse a referral for counseling.

HOW TO ENCOURAGE A STUDENT TO SEEK HELP FROM THE COUNSELING CENTER

You can say "I'm concerned about you because...

  • Your grades are dropping
  • You are missing class
  • You seem to be experiencing a great deal of stress
  • From what you tell me you are really sad, etc...

In cases where the student indicates that they are experiencing anxiety, depression, or other life difficulties you could state, "I'm worried about you and you may benefit from talking with someone at the Counseling Center. I can help you get connected with them"

IF THE STUDENT RESISTS SEEKING HELP

Below are some responses to common student statements:

  • "I'm not crazy"... Reassure the student that most of the students coming to the center are looking for help with common everyday problems and concerns.
  • "I can take care of it on my own"... Point out that therapists don't do things for you or tell you what to do, they help you discover what's not working and how you might make things better for yourself.
  • "But I don't want anybody to know"... Explain to the student that the Counseling Center is a confidential office, as required by the laws and ethics of professional practice.

WHEN A STUDENT SAYS THEY ARE IN COUNSELING AND NEED POSTPONEMENTS OR EXCUSED MISSED CLASSES AS A RESULT

Try to talk with the student about the academic concerns and come up with a solution that is mutually agreeable for handling missed work and/or classes. As a matter of policy, the Counseling Center does not give out medical excuses. Instead our staff encourages students to talk directly to faculty or an academic dean about a need for postponements or excused absences.

WHEN A STUDENT IS GETTING A POOR OR FAILING GRADE AND YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT PUSHING A STUDENT OVER THE EDGE

Students, even those with serious difficulties, need accurate feedback on their work. We would rather have them understand their limits here than to send them out of college not knowing this. In most instances, giving students poor or failing grades or stopping them from graduating will not push them over the edge. In some extreme cases, where it would place the student in danger, arrangements can be made to assure a student's safety when they learns the bad news. If you are concerned about a specific student, call the center. Our staff is available to consult with you about how best to proceed in these situations.

CONSULT WITH OUR STAFF ABOUT YOUR CONCERNS

If you are still unsure about how to help the student , call the Counseling Center and arrange for a consultation with one of the therapists on staff. We are always willing to think through with you how to best intervene when a student is having difficulties.