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Recognizing and Responding to Students in Distress

KNOW YOUR ROLE AND THE 3 STEPS FOR SUPPORTING A STUDENT IN DISTRESS

Members of the RIT Community work together toward maintaining an environment of support, respect and caring to contribute to student success.  Whether you are staff, faculty, a student or family member of a student at RIT, we all play a role.  

Counseling and Psychological Services provides consultation to faculty, staff, family, or friends who may be concerned about a student’s wellbeing, as well as evaluation and treatment for students who are in distress. 

Many people have questions and concerns about reaching out to a student who may be suffering-these concerns include fear of embarrassing the student, invading privacy, or not knowing how to approach and follow through to help.  However, evidence about violence, suicide and other concerns to campus safety suggests students feel cared for, recognized and more safe when others express concern and take action to help. 

Contacting a campus resource for consultation or questions is always an option. Consult with Counseling and Psychological Services, or other campus partners to ask the right questions, gain further information about how to respond to a student, or to request that someone outreach to the student.    

3 steps you can take to contribute toward wellness and safety for the campus community:

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1. Be Aware of Indicators for Student Distress

Academic Indicators

  • Uncharacteristic changes in a student’s performance
  • Increased or repeated absences
  • Serious references to suicide or violence in verbal statements or writing
  • Disruptive classroom behavior
  • Frequent, repeated requests for accommodations or special consideration

Behavioral Indicators

  • Trouble regulating emotions such as sadness or anger
  • Having difficulty working in groups or together with peers
  • Isolation from peers (staying in room, avoiding interaction with others
  • Crossing the boundaries of others, violations of respect of others
  • Disruptions in sleep, difficulty sleeping
  • Changes in appetite, problems with food
  • Messages or posts to social media reaching out for help
  • Noticeable changes in appearance or hygiene
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2. Respond and Reach Out

If a student confides in you, or if you are truly concerned about a student, reaching out early may be the key to prevention, connection and making a difference in a student’s life. 

If you notice signs of severe distress in a student, the best step to take is contacting Public Safety.  Public Safety will assess the situation, respond and may contact the most appropriate resource for you.  For other resources about responding to urgent mental health situations, see Get Help Now

Tips for supporting a student directly:

  • Chose a private place and a safe time for you and the student to talk
    “Is now an ok time for us to talk or can we set aside another time?”
  • Listen with care and attention, reflect what you hear
    “I heard you say that you have been depressed lately- tell me more”.
  • Focus on the facts and concerns that you see
    “I am worried that you haven’t been responding in class as actively as you usually do”
  • Ask what steps may have been taken so far by the student to address the problem
    “What has been helping you to deal with this problem so far?” or, “what are some of the things in your life that help you cope with this?”
  • Express willingness to help-
    “I’m here for you” or “How can I help you get what you need?”
  • Help the person identify next steps for sources of support-
    “what could we do to get you some more assistance with this”
    “seems like you have been struggling with sleep-what about checking with the Student Health Center on that?”
  • If possible, offer to connect and follow up with the student, plan a time to check in about how things went.
    “What if we walked together to the Student Health Center or Counseling & Psychological Services so you can make an appointment - I know where it is and I can check with you next week if you made the appointment”. 
  • Know that it is ok to just talk, hear the student out, and just offer a space for the student to be heard. 
    Sometimes that is all that’s needed. 
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3. Follow though

Make a referral to Counseling and Psychological Services

•    Encourage the student to visit our office, providing them with information that helps them to connect with us and sharing any positive experiences that you may have from the past. 
•    Assist the student in connecting with our office. You could offer to assist by making the first call to schedule a counseling appointment together or you could escort the student to the Counseling and Psychological Services office, located on the second floor of the August Center.

If you are unsure of how or when to refer a student, we encourage you to contact our office for a brief consultation. 

 

Follow up with the student

Check in with the student later about whether they were connected with the appropriate resource. Ask about their experience. Offer to advocate for them if needed.