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Responding to Students in Distress

Introduction
Signs of Distress
Your Response
Supporting Different Types of Students
Confronting a Student

Introduction

As a UWG staff or faculty member, you are in an excellent position to recognize behavioral changes that characterize the emotionally troubled student. A student's behavior, especially if it is inconsistent with your previous observations could well constitute an inarticulate attempt to draw attention to his or her plight, (i.e., a "cry for help"). Your ability to recognize the signs of emotional distress, and the courage to acknowledge your concerns directly to the student, are often noted by students as the most significant factor in their successful resolution of their problems.

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Signs of Distress

Look for and be aware of any of the following signs of distress:

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Your Response

Involve yourself only as far as you are willing to go. At times, in an attempt to reach or help a troubled student, you may become more involved than time or skill permits. It is important to know the boundaries and limitations of your intervention. If you decide to take action, you should follow these guidelines when approaching a distressed student:

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Supporting Different Types of Students:

The Anxious Student
For these types of students, danger is everywhere, even though what makes students anxious is often unknown. Not knowing what is expected and conflict are primary causes of anxiety. Unknown and unfamiliar situations raise their anxiety; high and unreasonable self-expectations increase anxiety also. These students often have trouble making decisions.

Do:

Don't:

The Depressed Student
Typically, these students get the most sympathy. They show a multitude of symptoms, e.g., guilt, low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, and inadequacy as well as physical symptoms such as decreased or increased appetite, difficulty staying asleep, early awakening, low interest in daily activities. They usually show low activity levels because everything is an effort and they have little energy.

Do:

Don't:

The Student in Poor Contact with Reality
These students have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality, the dream from the waking state. Their thinking is typically illogical, confused, disturbed; they may coin new words, see or hear things which no one else can, have irrational beliefs, and exhibit bizarre or inappropriate behavior. Generally, these students are not dangerous and are very scared, frightened and overwhelmed. However, they can become dangerous if provoked by argument or debate.

Do:

Don't:

The Suicidal Student
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students.  UWG advocates a team approach involving trained professionals. Suicide attempts or serious contemplation should always be addressed by trained professionals. Always refer. Most people who contemplate suicide are ambivalent about killing themselves and typically respond to help. Suicidal students usually attempt to communicate their feelings prior to attempting suicide.

High risk indicators include:

Do:

Don't:

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Confronting a Student

Confronting a student does not require judging, blaming, or attacking the person.  It does not require demeaning or forcing the person to take action. Confronting someone means that you have the courage to let the student know what you have seen and heard, that you are concerned about them and that you are willing to help. Listed below are some practical tips on confronting a resident, a friend, or anyone else you care about.

Be HONEST and SPECIFIC:
Explain why you want to have a serious talk and what you hope will happen (and what you hope doesn't happen). Example:" I am really worried about your drinking and I hope you won't just blow me off or think I am just putting you down...I don't want to wreck our friendship..."

Describe your OBSERVATIONS:
Describe your non-judgmental observations if the student’s behavior in a way that expresses concern. Example: "I am concerned that since last Friday night you have come back to our room really drunk four times, twice you said you drove home drunk and last night you threw-up all over our floor...".

Express your FEELINGS:
Example: "I am really worried about you...I am scared to talk to you in a serious way because I think you don't realize you have a problem...and bringing it up might just piss you off..."

Offer your RECOMMENDATIONS:
Example: "I really wish you would go talk to someone about your [specific behavior]...see if you do have a problem. You could either talk with a physician at Health Services (6787-839-6452) or a counselor at the Student Development Center (678-839-6428)... whoever you would be most comfortable with...I'll go with you... The services are free and they are on campus."

LISTEN actively to what your resident says:
Listening "actively" does not require that you necessarily agree or disagree with your friend. The important part is that you accurately hear what your friend is saying so he or she feels heard and understood. One way to communicate that you are listening and understand is to paraphrase what your friend says, from their point of view, and to then to restate your observations and recommendations.

Always call for help:

Never put yourself in an unsafe position. Always get help. Your supervisor is your first line of assistance and support. ALWAYS share your concerns about students with your supervisor. ALWAYS work with your supervisor when you need support for yourself. In addition, consult with the Student Development Center for a counselor, who can speak with the student.

You are NEVER alone!

Below are a few campus resources to always have at your disposal:

Student Development Center (counseling) 678-839-6428
University Police 678-839-6000
Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management: Dr. Melanie McClellan 678-839-6423
Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management: Dr. Scot Lingrell 678-830-6423
Director of Residence Life: Mr. Stephen Whitlock  678-839-6426
Health Center 678-839-6452
Student Advocate/ Coordinator of University Services 678-839-0641

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