How to Deal With Distressed Students

A Referral Guide for Ferris State University Faculty and Staff

Especially for Faculty and Staff
This document is provided to assist you in becoming aware of the signs of a distressed student, things that you might do to help the student, signs of suicidal ideation, and when and how to make effective referrals to the Counseling Center.

The college years mark an important period of personal and psychological growth for students. Occasionally, students may have difficulty coping with stress or other emotional problems. You may be one of the first to become aware of personal difficulties affecting a distressed student. This document, along with other resources for you on the Counseling Center website, may help you to be more knowledgeable, in control, and more helpful to your students in the event of crisis or psychological emergency.

About the Counseling Center
Staff provides limited short-term counseling therapy to students with a variety of personal-emotional concerns and problems. Services include confidential counseling for students at no charge, consultation for faculty and staff, and 24 hour crisis assessment and referral.

Our Consulting Role with You
If you have concerns about a student, the counseling staff is available for consultation during regular business hours. We can help you assess the seriousness of the situation, find the best way to make a referral, and identify resources on and off campus for the student. We can also help you clarify your own feelings about the student and the situation.

Some Signs Indicating a Need for Counseling
Please consider referring a student to the Counseling Center if you notice any of the following:

  • You find yourself doing more personal counseling than academic advising with a student.
  • There are traumatic changes or problems in personal relationships of the student.
  • You become aware of serious academic problems.
  • A student appears excessively tired, irritable, anxious, depressed, angry, or sad.
  • You notice marked changes in a student s appearance or habits such as grooming, hygiene, social withdrawal, change in academic performance.
  • Student expresses hopelessness or helplessness.
  • Excessive use of alcohol and other drugs.
  • Student s thoughts or behaviors are bizarre or very unusual.
  • Student makes any reference to suicide.

Sometimes, students can exhibit the above in overt, obvious ways. On the other hand, students can be very subtle and unobtrusive. It is helpful to look for clusters of symptoms rather than single behaviors.

As required by law and ethics of professional practice, all communication between a therapist and client is confidential. Without the student s consent, we cannot discuss the particulars of the student s situation with others, or even the fact that counseling is provided. If you would like information about the student s attendance at counseling, ask the student to provide a release of information to his/her therapist so that the therapist can talk with you.

Mental Health Emergencies
A mental health emergency can occur any time and may require immediate action. The Counseling Center provides 24 hour crisis assessment and intervention while school is in session. Here are some examples of emergency situations:

  • Suicidal gesture, stated intention, suicide attempt.
  • Behaviors posing an immediate threat to the student or others.
  • Demonstrated inability to care for oneself.

 How to Respond to a Mental Health Emergency

  • Offer a quiet place for the individual to talk.
  • Listen to the person, while maintaining a straight forward, considerate, and helpful attitude.
  • Don t leave the individual alone, unless you feel concerned for your own safety.
  • Secure help as soon as possible.
  • Have student identify someone who could walk him/her to the Counseling Center during office hours.

 Whom to Call in a Mental Health Emergency

During office hours, contact the Counseling Center (591-5968) and/or FSU Public Safety (911).

Inform your department head or a colleague for assistance, or back up if appropriate.

After hours, call FSU Public Safety (x 5000 or 911) who will contact the after-hours mental health crisis line.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression

  • Sad or depressed mood of more than a week s duration.
  • Reports of feeling sad, low, blue, despondent, hopeless, gloomy.
  • Low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness.
  • Loss of interest in usual activities including class attendance, social activities.
  • Change of appetite, sometimes weight loss.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Substance abuse.

 Signs of Suicidal Feelings

  • Feelings of hopelessness/helplessness.
  • Increased anxiety, agitation, self-directed anger.
  • Thoughts of death, verbal threats/references.
  • Patterns of giving away things.

 Suicide Risk Increases

  • The student threatens/verbalizes self harm.
  • Depression is severe, longer-lasting.
  • History of previous suicide attempts.
  • Impulsive nature.
  • Absence of support.
  • Alcohol and other drug abuse.
  • When the person has a plan and the means to do harm.

    Contact Information:

    Ferris State University
    Counseling Center
    210 Health Center Building
    1019 Campus Drive
    Big Rapids, MI 49307
    Hours: Monday-Friday, 8-12 PM & 1-5 PM