How to Support a Student

Stress and Existing Concerns

Today’s university students face a number of mental health issues that can affect their behavior in the classroom and impact their personal and emotional well-being. We want to make sure that we can all recognize signs of distress and know what to say if a student needs help.

Identify Signs of Distress

A significant change in a student’s behavior may indicate that the student is experiencing emotional or psychological distress. Some signals of distress include:

  • Excessive procrastination and failure to turn in assignments on time
  • Decrease in the quality of work
  • Sudden or frequent class absences
  • Frequent office visits or avoiding interacting with instructors
  • Failure to respond to notice of academic problems or contacts from instructors
  • Listlessness, sleeping in class
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene
  • Impaired speech or disjointed thoughts, rambling or illogical speech
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Seeming to be under the influence of drug or alcohol, smelling like alcohol
  • Threats regarding safety of self or others

How to Provide Support

While students' mental health issues are a serious concern, there is good news—being a university student can be a protective factor! Universities provide a broad range of resources to identify students of concern and to intervene when needed. Faculty and staff are an important part of the safety net for students experiencing mental health issues. Here are a few important tips:

  • Notice changes in behavior among your students.
  • Communicate your concerns directly to the student. Be specific and behavioral. For example, “I’m worried about you. You have been missing class a lot lately.” or, “You usually participate actively in class discussions, but lately you have been very quiet and you seem to have difficulty staying awake.”
  • Ask directly about students’ thoughts about suicide. Again, be specific. Don’t ask if they are thinking about harming themselves since there are many non-lethal ways to harm oneself. Instead, say something like, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
  • Ask directly about students’ thoughts regarding violence toward others. For example, use a statement like, “You feel so angry toward person X. Is there any chance that you are considering harming that person?”
  • Students will sometimes say that they want to tell you something, but that they do not want to you tell anyone. Do not promise to keep something private until you know what it is. Even mental health professionals cannot guarantee absolute confidentiality when someone’s life is in danger.
  • Maintain clear and consistent boundaries. While it may be important to do something out of the ordinary for a student in order to help, notice if you are consistently overextending yourself.
  • Be aware of your own life experiences that might cause you to over identify with students. Over identification can sometimes lead us to ignore the boundaries we need to set with students or to assume that what helped us will also help the student.
  • Be aware of experiences that might cause you to feel more afraid of, intimidated by, or annoyed with some students. Those feelings might cause you to avoid interacting with a troubled student or to address concerning behavior.
  • Remember that your role is to identify concerns and refer to mental health and other professionals. Call Counseling Services at 541-346-3227 to consult. Ask the student if you can call or accompany them to Counseling Services to assist in getting them connected.