Helping a Student in Distress
At MUIH, we strive to support students with emphasis on caring for the personal, intellectual and ethical growth of students. All members of the MUIH community (faculty, staff, and students) are dedicated to the highest standards of education and share the responsibility of maintaining a safe learning and living environment.
The campus community is committed to helping students grow both intellectually and personally so that they develop emotional resilience that enables them to respond to life events in ways that support their well-being and integrity. It is important that faculty, and staff recognize and acknowledge when a student is experiencing distress.
You might be the first person to notice, or you might be the first person who is in a position to assist the student. It is important that you consult with campus resources, speak directly with the student or refer the student to an appropriate resource. If you encounter a student who exhibits problematic behaviors, you can contact the appropriate resource(s) listed below.
If you believe the situation is an emergency: Call 911
Identifying Students in Distress
- Significant shift in quality of work
- Missed assignments or appointments
- Repeated absence from class, exams, and other activities
- Continual requests for unusual accommodations (late papers, extensions, postponed exams, etc.)
- Essays or papers that expresses hopelessness, social isolation, rage, or despair
- Lack of engagement in participation-oriented classes
- Inappropriate disruptions or monopolizing classroom time
Physical or Psychological Signs:
- Excessive anxiety or panic
- Apathy, lack of energy, a change in sleeping or eating habits, or dramatic weight gain or loss
- Marked changes in personal hygiene, work habits, or social behavior
- Mood elevation
- Isolation or withdrawal
- Overtly suicidal thoughts, such as referring to suicide as a current option
- Giving away treasured personal possessions
- Increased irritability or aggressive behavior
- Bizarre thinking, seemingly at odds with the reality of the situation (such as paranoia)
- Excessive use of alcohol or other drugs
Other Factors to Consider:
- Direct statements indicating family problems, personal losses such as death of a family member or the break-up of a relationship
- Expressions of concern about a student by peers
- Written note or verbal statement that has a sense of hopelessness or finality
- Your sense, however vague, that something is seriously amiss
What You Can Do
- Find a private, comfortable place/time to talk. 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. Ask if the student has ever talked about this problem with anyone else, including a counselor. Try to get an accurate understanding of the issues, and, if appropriate, encourage the student to talk about the situation with a professional.
- In your own words, express your concern using statements like, “I’m concerned that…”.
- Ask open-ended questions. The student may choose not to answer, but may feel relieved to know you are trying to understand.
- Don’t feel compelled to find a solution. Often, listening is enough.
- Suggest that the student can get more help if needed.
- Don’t hesitate to ask for support from the the Counseling and Wellness staff.
How to Make a Referral
- Suggest that the student make an appointment with a professional. Let them know that the first step to feeling better is getting help.
- If necessary, you can help the student make an appointment.
- If the student is hesitant to make an appointment, explain to the student that:
- Professional counseling is confidential. This means that information about the student cannot be released to other offices, family members or faculty without the student’s written permission (except when the student is in danger of harming himself or herself or others).
- The cost for counseling services depends on their health insurance coverage, and some providers will offer a sliding scale to offer more affordable options.
Students In Crisis
- Suicidal statements or suicide attempts
- Written or verbal violence or acting out violently
- 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)
What to Do When You Suspect a Serious Crisis
Special thanks to Cornell University for language borrowed from their handbook on “Recognizing and Responding to Students in Distress.”