As a JWCC faculty or staff member, students view you as a source of instruction, assistance, and sometimes personal support. In your conversations with students, some will naturally share their successes and academic pressures, and a few will disclose their own personal stories. Other students won’t intentionally share their problems with you, but you may notice indirectly expressed signs of personal problems. Even if you are uncomfortable with this role, you become a potential resource in times of trouble. Students say that the best way for you to help them resolve their problems are to:
- Recognize signs of serious emotional distress and
- Have the courage to acknowledge your concerns directly.
Pay Attention to Your Own Reactions
Your own reactions can become valuable clues to let you know that you can ask for assistance to intervene with a distressed student:
- You believe that you do not have sufficient expertise to help the student who is showing signs of distress or inappropriate behavior.
- You feel scared and intimidated by the student.
- You and other department members begin talking frequently about “what to do” for this student.
- You realize you are becoming one of the student’s few sources of support and you find you want to turn down the student’s requests for more time.
- You feel resentful, angry, or anxious whenever “that” student calls you…
- You find yourself trying to “fix” or otherwise becoming involved in the student’s problems.
- You begin to neglect your own life/sleep/work.
Tips for Recognizing Distressed Students
Signs of distress can range from feeling sad or upset to extreme agitation and behaviors that appear dangerous to both the student and others.
Four levels of student distress have been identified below to help in identifying when certain behaviors could be problematic.
Level 1 – Although not disruptive to others, these behaviors may indicate that something is wrong and that help may be needed:
- Unaccountable change from good to poor performance
- Infrequent attendance or excessive absences
- Change in class/event participation or pattern of interaction
- Marked change in mood, motor activity, or speech
- Marked change in physical appearance
Level 2 – These behaviors may indicate significant emotional distress or a reluctance or an inability to acknowledge a need for personal help:
- Repeated requests for special consideration
- New or regularly occurring behavior which pushes the limits and may disrupt the routine of others’ performances
- Unusual or exaggerated emotional response
Level 3 – These behaviors usually show that the student is in crisis and needs emergency care:
- Highly disruptive behavior (hostility, aggression, etc.)
- Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech, disjointed thoughts)
- Loss of contact with reality (seeing/hearing things that are not there, beliefs or actions at odds with reality)
- Overt suicidal thoughts (suicide is a current option)
Level 4 – These behaviors usually show that the student is in danger of harming others and requires emergency intervention:
- Verbal threats toward another person
- Physical threats toward another person
What You Can Do to Help
Manage the situation. Students who are upset can produce high emotions. Stay calm and state what can and will be done for the student
Mobilize Support. Encourage social and academic support and refer to the counseling office
Follow up. Follow up with the student to make sure that they have received the appropriate resources and if they are feeling any better.
Responses to Level 1/Level 2 Behavior:
- Talk to the student in private when you both have time.
- Express your concern in non-judgmental terms.
- Listen to the student and repeat the gist of what the student is saying.
- Respect the student’s value system.
- Ask if the student is considering suicide.
- Make appropriate referrals if necessary.
- Make sure the student understands what action is necessary.
Responses to Level 3/ Level 4 Behavior:
- Stay calm.
- If comments or actions involve threat to self or others call JWCC Campus Police immediately at 4949.
How to Make a Referral
When you determine that a student is in need of help that you are not equipped to provide, you may decide that a referral is warranted.
- Talk to the student first. Be honest with the student about the limits of your time and ability to help.
- Let the student know you will be alerting the counseling office of the referral.
- Empower the student to follow through with the referral.
- Assure the student that s/he is not alone and that many students seek help over the course of their college career.
- Try to help the student know what to expect if s/he follows through on the referral.
- Consider walking the student over to the Counseling Office if the student expresses hesitation.