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You Can Help a Student in Distress

University students often encounter a great deal of stress during the course of their academic experience. While most students cope successfully with the challenges that these years bring, an increasing number of students find that the various pressures of life are unmanageable or unbearable. As faculty members and professional staff, you often encounter these distressed students in your offices or your classrooms. Many of these students have not sought any psychological intervention. Thus, your role is a crucial one in identifying and referring students who are in distress. The following guidelines might be useful.

Signs and Symptoms of a Student in Distress

  • Excessive procrastination and very poorly prepared work, especially if this is inconsistent with previous work.
  • Infrequent class attendance with little or no work completed.
  • Dependence, e.g., the student who hangs around you, or makes excessive appointments to see you during office hours.
  • Listlessness, lack of energy, or frequently falling asleep in class.
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene.
  • Repeated requests for special consideration, e.g., deadline extensions.
  • Impaired speech or garbled, disjointed thoughts.
  • Homicidal threats.
  • Behavior which regularly interferes with the decorum or effective management of your class.
  • Overtly suicidal thoughts, e.g., referring to suicide as a current option.
  • High levels of irritability, including unruly, aggressive, violent, or abrasive behavior.
  • Inability to make decisions despite your repeated attempts to clarify and to encourage.
  • Dramatic weight loss or weight gain.
  • Bizarre or strange behavior which is obviously inappropriate to the situation, e.g., talking to "invisible" people.
  • Normal emotions that are displayed to an extreme degree or for a prolonged period of time, e.g., fearfulness, tearfulness, nervousness.

Guidelines for Interaction

  • Talk to the student in private.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Show concern and interest.
  • Repeat back the essence of what the student has told you.
  • Avoid criticizing or sounding judgmental. Try not to minimize the student's concerns or problems.
  • Consider Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility as a resource and discuss a referral with the student.
  • If the student resists help and you are worried, contact Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility to discuss your concerns.
  • Involve yourself only as far as you want to go. Extending oneself can be a gratifying experience when kept within realistic limits.

How to Make a Referral to Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility

  1. Suggest that the student call or come in to make an appointment. Give the Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility phone number and location at that time.
  2. If you wish to assist the student directly, call the secretary at Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility while the student is in your office in order to assure that an appointment is made. Write down the appointment information (time, date, counselor, and location) for the student.
  3. If the situation is an emergency, follow #2 above, but state that "the student needs an appointment immediately."
  4. Sometimes it is useful or necessary for you to walk the student over to Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility.
  5. If you are concerned about a student but are uncertain about the appropriateness of a referral, feel free to call Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility for a consultation.

After Hours Services

The Crisis Response Team coordinates crisis coverage for campus emergencies when Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility is not open. Call the University Department of Public Safety (651-2911) for contact with the Crisis Coordinator on Call.


Phone: 573.986.6191
Fax: 573.986.6031
Crisp Hall 201-202

Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility
One University Plaza, MS 8220
Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63701

After Hours Services

Call the University Police Department at 651-2911 for emergency situations after hours, on weekends, or during session breaks. The University Police Department will contact the University's Crisis Response Team.