Faculty Flash November 2015

University Life Faculty Flash: Promoting Student Well-Being and Campus Safety: A Guide for Faculty and Staff
November 2015

We have entered the second half of the semester and our students are heading toward final assignments, papers and exams. During such times of increased academic demands, students may be particularly vulnerable to stress. While most students face life stressors with no significant problems, a small but significant portion of students may experience more serious mental health issues as a result of stress. For these students, stress may be more likely to interfere with personal and academic goals. For some, stress may contribute to intensified anxiety or depression and, for a few, may result in thoughts of self-harm or suicide. As someone who interacts with students on a regular basis, you are in a pivotal position to identify behavior that may be of concern and recognize a student in distress.

Indicators of Potential Distress

It can be difficult to know when to be concerned about a student, particularly because students manifest their distress in different ways. For example, some students are more verbally expressive while others exhibit their struggles in their behaviors. While there is no “template” for identifying a concerning student, the following are some warning signs that may indicate distress or significant emotional concern:

  • Marked nervousness, agitation, or irritability
  • Inappropriately aggressive or abrasive behavior
  • Excessive procrastination and/or poorly prepared work
  • Pattern of infrequent class attendance, little or no work completed
  • Apparent depression, tearfulness
  • Lack of energy, excessive fatigue/sleepiness
  • Marked change in personal hygiene
  • Withdrawal, indecisiveness, and/or confusion
  • Comments (written or verbal) that suggest thoughts about harming oneself, or any threats to another person.
  • Bizarre, alarming statements, or evidence that a student is engaging in dangerous behavior

What You Can Do

If you find that you are concerned about a student, it is important to know that there are steps you can take and resources available to support you.

1) Talk to the student–Expressing concern to the student is appropriate when you feel comfortable doing so and the student is not in a serious mental health crisis requiring immediate professional help to address safety concerns.

  • Focus on the behaviors: to minimize sensitivity, defensiveness or shame/embarrassment
  • Do not promise confidentiality: depending on what the student discloses, you may have to alert professionals to ensure the student and others remain safe
  • Express acceptance and understanding: remember that behavior reflects a struggle to cope effectively with stress or difficult emotions
  • Ask what the student needs: help the student identify the source(s) of distress and encourage them to identify strategies for coping (e.g., talk to a friend or family member, exercise, engage in a favorite hobby, etc.)
  • Know your limits as a helper and make referrals. There may be times when a student needs professional assistance and you can be pivotal in helping to connect the student to those resources.
  • Seek consultation. Know that consultation and assistance is available to you. We are here to help. Please contact the resources below when you have a question or are seeking guidance for supporting a student of concern.
  • Counseling and Psychological Services: provides confidential psychological services, including 24/7 crisis intervention and consultation to faculty and staff
    • 8:30am-5:00pm, Monday thru Friday – 703-993-2380 (*extended evening hours on Tuesdays and Wednesdays when classes in session)
    • After business hours/weekends, call the GMU Police Department at 703-993-2810 and ask to speak with the Clinician on Call.
    • For more information about available services, visit http://caps.gmu.edu/
  • Student Support: helps students negotiate life situations by connecting them with appropriate on- and off-campus resources
  • GMU Police Department:
    • Emergencies: 911
    • Non-Emergencies: 703-993-2810

We hope you find this information helpful.  If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you for all of the work you do to support the success and well-being of our students.

Barbara Meehan, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Counseling and Psychological Services