Counseling Resources for Faculty and Staff

As a faculty or staff member, you are in a position to observe students whose behavior in, or out, of class, indicates that they may be having difficulties which affect their psychological health. You are in an excellent position to encourage the student to seek either counseling or support from other Campus Life services. Many students experience extensive changes in their lives while in college. Students may leave their homes, communities, even their native cultures to live independently, many for the first time. They must make key life and career decisions while developing the judgment that marks their maturation from adolescence to adult life. Students must also manage the special challenges of undergraduate or graduate academics. Under these circumstances, students may find themselves experiencing emotional stress.

If you observe a student who appears distraught, or whose behavior has changed over time, you may wish to offer support. Students quite naturally turn to faculty and staff in times of stress or crisis. In most cases, providing an empathic “sounding board” is enough. However, if you assess a student’s situation to be more serious, it is appropriate to let the student know there are many support services available on campus.

The information below includes ideas on how to make referrals to Counseling and Health Services and other key support services. Also included are specific resources, phone numbers and brief descriptions of many of the issues college students face.

Students in Distress

Over the past several years, college counseling centers across the U.S. have experienced striking increases in the number of students seeking treatment for psychological problems as well as amplification of symptom severity manifested by these students. NDNU is no exception. Utilization of our counseling services has increased in the past five years. In the last several years, one in ten students sought individual counseling at our office. A number of students in any given class seek on-campus psychological counseling at some point during their time here. Utilization of psychiatric medication consultations has increased since 1995. Several NDNU students are hospitalized annually for psychiatric conditions, while others require psychologically-related medical leaves. Suicidal ideation and self-injurious behaviors are also common on campuses nationwide. In a recent survey of college counseling centers, 80 of 274 (30%) of schools that responded experienced at least one student suicide in a one-year period. Despite increased utilization of psychological services, many students in distress, especially those with substance abuse or eating disorders, neither seek nor receive treatment.

In the face of these national patterns and day-to-day experiences with troubled students, faculty and staff members have expressed concern and requested information to assist them in identifying problems and helping students locate professional support. At NDNU, by virtue of our small size and academic values, we have committed ourselves to support students in their growth as total human beings. This document is designed to assist faculty and staff to recognize typical signs exhibited by students in distress, to communicate effectively with such students, and to refer them to appropriate campus resources.

Recognizing Students in Distress

Signs and behaviors listed under the following categories are often indicative of psychological distress.

Marked changes in academic performance

  • Excessive class absences or tardiness
  • Avoidance of classroom participation
  • Inappropriate disruption or monopolization of class time
  • Significant deterioration in quality of work
  • Frequent requests for special considerations, especially when this represents a change from previous functioning
  • Consistently missed appointments and assignments

Unusual Behavior, Attitudes or Appearance

  • Depressed mood, lethargy, excessive fatigue
  • Hyperactivity, very rapid speech, grandiosity
  • Unprovoked irritability, angry outbursts, any form of physical aggression or violence
  • Unexplained crying
  • Visible anxiety, marked negativity or obsessive thoughts
  • Marked change in personal hygiene or dress
  • Noticeable weight loss or gain
  • Strange or bizarre behavior possibly indicating loss of contact with reality (rambling thoughts, laughing to self, disorganized thinking, suspiciousness or prolonged vacant staring)

Direct or Indirect References to Significant Distress, Suicide or Homicide

  • Expressed thoughts of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Comments suggesting family problems or marked isolation from family or friends
  • Reference to “voices” telling the student what to do
  • Overt or indirect references to suicide (may appear in written assignments)
  • Sharing of homicidal threats

Engaging Students in Distress

NDNU faculty and staff are neither expected nor encouraged to provide psychotherapy or clinical assessment services to students. Having said that, it is also evident that faculty and staff are often in an optimal position to notice students in distress, to engage them in conversations about their situations, and, ultimately, to refer them to appropriate resources for assistance.

If you are having difficulty deciding if, when or how you should approach a student in apparent distress, individuals at Counseling and Health Services, Student Life and Leadership, Academic Success Center and Campus Life are available for consultation. If you feel that a student is in imminent danger or crisis, please alert Public Safety or Counseling and Health Services immediately. If you believe a student may be experiencing psychological distress, the following guidelines will help facilitate effective communication:

  • Speaking with a student out of genuine concern will usually be perceived as a kind and thoughtful gesture rather than an intrusion.
  • When you address the student, offer non-judgmental descriptions of the behaviors/signs that have provoked your concern. Be as specific and concrete as possible (e.g. “I’m concerned that you’ve missed so many classes recently”).
  • Listen openly to the student’s description of what’s happening in his or her life. Acknowledge (validate) how the student is seeing things at this time so that he or she may know that you understand.
  • If you have questions, ask them directly and non-judgmentally.
  • Allow for silences.
  • If you are concerned about the possibility of self-injury or suicide, ask directly if the student is considering hurting him/herself. Bringing up this subject will not “put ideas in the person’s head.” Often a student will be relieved to hear that someone is “tuned in” well enough to ask.
  • Avoid making promises of confidentiality. If it turns out that the student is a potential danger to self or others, such promises cannot be kept.
  • Try to determine the nature and extent of the student’s friendships, family connections and other sources of social support. Determine if he or she is reaching out for help from support systems.
  • Be clear with the student (and yourself) about what support you can and cannot provide.
  • Describe resources available on campus (e.g. Counseling and Health Services, Dean of Students, Student Life and Leadership Office). Explain the potential benefits of professional support.
  • Volunteer to help the student make an appointment with a counselor (if desired).
  • Instill hope in the student that things can improve with a new course of action.

Making Referrals

While a student often feels much better after talking with an interested adult, faculty or staff,  you might sense that his or her problems are beyond the scope of your expertise. In such cases, it is helpful to encourage a student to seek assistance at Counseling and Health Services. Reassuring the student that it is normal to have some problems during the college years, stating the fact that  many NDNU students seek contact with the Counseling and Health Services during their time here, and stressing that the Counseling and Health Services staff enjoy working with students and have a great deal of compassion for the student’s experience (whatever it may be) can also help a student to feel more relaxed about asking for help.

Scheduling an Appointment

If you feel there is no immediate emergency and that counseling might be helpful, providing a student with information about accessing our services can facilitate the process. To schedule an appointment, a student should call 650-508-3578. In most cases, students can be seen within a week of scheduling their appointment. We make every attempt to work around a student’s academic schedule, although sometimes this is difficult and the student may need to have some flexibility in order to be seen in a timely fashion. Another approach is to encourage the student to call to make the appointment from your office, or for you to make the appointment for him/her (with the student’s permission and presence in the room at the time of your phone call). If you wish to refer a student to a specific counselor, please call ahead to check on that counselor’s availability. It is often helpful for a counselor to have information about a student’s situation before the counselor sees the student. Another option, time permitting, is to walk the student to the Counseling and Health Services office (hours are 10 a.m.–4 p.m. M-F). Students are usually willing, even relieved, for an initial conversation between the faculty or staff member and the counselor to take place. If you would like to speak with the counselor, ask the student’s permission to do so when referring him or her. In case of emergency, where you feel uneasy about letting a student leave your office, you may call the Counseling and Health Services, the Dean of Students or Public Safety and let us know the nature of your concern.

Reporting a “Student of Concern”

If you are concerned about a student, you may use the form below to express this concern by selecting the pertinent “Student of Concern” boxes. These “Students of Concern” reports will be received by the Dean of Students and Director of Counseling Services.

Submit a Student of Concern report

Getting Support and Professional Consultation

In addition to direct services to students, we offer consultation services to faculty and staff who have concerns about a student but feel uncertain about whether to act on their intuitions. When in doubt, call!

Important Numbers

  • Counseling Services: 508-3578
  • Health Services: 508-3756
  • Housing and Residence Life 508-3759; 508-3657
  • Academic Success Center 508-3670
  • Public Safety 508-3502, 504-0656 & 740-1483, 911
  • Dean of Students 508-3514

Resources and Articles