Faculty and Staff Resource Guide

The University of Indianapolis community has long worked together to provide a learning environment which strives to find optimal balance of challenge, opportunity and support for students. Students choose our university for the quality interactions.

Students leave sources of support behind when they come to college and many of them are successful at establishing new ones on our campus and in our community. But many are not as successful and frequently either turn directly to faculty and staff for support or indirectly show their need for it.

Professors and staff interact with troubled and distressed students on a daily basis, so it is important for you to know about the resources available for you to offer to these students. We recognize that your willingness to respond to students in distress will undoubtedly be influenced by your personal style as well as the limits of a professor’s or staff member’s responsibility for helping students grow emotionally as well as intellectually.

General Signs of Student Distress

Most students may at times exhibit a few of these "distress" signs, but they will probably go away quickly. In considering the kinds of signs that suggest referral to a counseling agency, acute changes and/or numerous signs that linger, merit special attention.

If you are concerned about a student exhibiting several of these signs, you might want to consider asking him or her to stop by your office, point out that he or she does not seem him/herself, or perhaps point out changes in the academic work. If you feel comfortable doing so, it is appropriate to suggest they make an appointment at the Counseling Center, or the service of their choice.

Signs of Depression and Suicidality

Multiple Significant Changes in the Person's Overt Behavior Patterns:

Diminished or Poor Quality of Social Relationships:

Recent Traumatic or Stressful Events in the Person's Life:

Suicide Indicators:

We know that there are a variety of mood disorders that have their onset in adolescence and young adulthood - according to the National Institute for Mental Health the age of onset for depression is lowering. Untreated mood disorders can have a serious impact on the functioning and well-being of students as well as on university environments.

Talking To Distressed Students

This can be a challenging task but a worthwhile one, given the powerful effect that a faculty or staff member can have on students. Straightforwardly acknowledging their distress is usually a helpful place to begin. You might want to observe that you have noted changes in them, that you are concerned about their welfare, and that you are willing to help explore sources of help (e.g., the Counseling Center, Residence Hall Staff, a friend, parents, etc.).

Important Considerations Include:

Privacy: Talk to the student in private when both of you have time and are not rushed or preoccupied. It is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel comfortable about what to do next.

Honesty: It is best to be frank with a student about the limits of your ability to assist (e.g., limits of time, energy, training, objectivity). It is often reassuring to students to hear that you respect their willingness to talk to you and that you want to support them in getting the assistance they need.

Concerned attitude: At some risk of belaboring the obvious, it should be pointed out that distressed students are frequently initially helped by the knowledge that someone is concerned about them.

Mutual decision making: Regarding referrals creates the best climate for helping students, unless they are seriously disturbed and unable to accept such responsibility. Threats or involuntary referrals make for hostile attitudes and/or unmotivated clients. Students may not be interested in immediately following through on counseling referrals but often act on the referral later.

Inform and reassure: The student that the Counseling Center offers a range of ways of helping them. Students come to us with a wide variety of problems. Some students continue to have a stereotyped view that only students with serious mental illness seek counseling. It can be useful to assure students that seeking help doesn't necessarily mean they have serious problems. You can consider suggesting that the distressed student talk to parents, their physician, clergy, advisors or sources of help on campus as well as mental health services.

Timing is important. When students are receptive toward a referral, you might want to offer them access to your phone, assist them in finding the number, (317) 788-5015, or walk them over if you both feel comfortable with this choice.

Contact: We suggest that you consider contacting the Counseling Center directly to share pertinent information about the person you referred. Depending on the circumstances you should ask the student's permission to inform our staff about the referral. All referral information is subject to the same confidentiality standard as any other clinical information.

Strange and inappropriate behavior should not be ignored. The student can be informed that such behavior is distracting to others and is inappropriate. A team approach is generally most helpful in these situations. It may be appropriate and necessary to inform one or all of the following individuals - the dean of the department, Counseling Center staff, campus police, residence life, and family.

Certain disorders can pose more serious challenges to providing the assistance distressed students need. For example, an individual’s poor understanding of a disorder can sometimes exacerbate the problem(s) associated with the disorder.