Student Life

Quick Referral Guide

Recognizing Students In Distress

While faculty and staff are often well equipped to service various student needs we would like to offer the following guidelines to help in the identification and referral of students who may need psychological assistance. The following is a list of the more common signs of psychological distress that have been observed in students:

Changes in mood, appearance or behavior:

Students may talk directly about their issues, but their appearance and behavior can also be telling. Deterioration of hygiene, appearance and dress may be visible cues of a problem. You may also observe persistent decline in academic performance, poor attendance, an uncharacteristic need for additional attention or repeated requests for extensions. Emotionally distraught students also exhibit fits of anger, crying, hyperactivity as well as conversations that are incoherent or disturbing.

Traumatic changes in personal relationships:

Students also feel very high levels of stress when they experience a traumatic or sudden change in their lives including the death of a family member or close friend, difficulties in important relationships, a divorce or breakup or changes in family responsibilities. Such stress, on top of the multiple demands of schoolwork, jobs and personal commitments may overwhelm the individual's usual capacity to cope. If you are aware of such a problem, you might wish to initiate a conversation.

Substance abuse:

Students, even those at RWC, also use substances to cope with life stresses and psychological difficulties. If you see a combination of some of the more common physical (e.g. chronic coughing, dilated pupils, weight loss, nervousness, chronic fatigue, slurred speech, stumbling), behavioral (e.g. excessively disruptive, overly antagonistic, acting bizarre or peculiar, boastfulness, crude behavior, sarcasm, lying/stealing) and/or academic (e.g. poor attendance, unexcused/unexplained absences, decrease in performance) do not underestimate their significance.

References to suicide:

Any reference to suicide should be taken seriously. Verbal messages may include "I wish I weren't here," or directly stating "I'm going to kill myself." Some nonverbal signals include giving away valued possessions, and putting legal, financial, and other affairs in order, a preoccupation with death, withdrawal or boredom, a history of depression, and poor grooming habits. While not all thoughts of suicide are dangerous they may indicate that the student is feeling overwhelmed or depressed. To assume that talk of suicide is intended solely to get attention is risky and can be a regrettable mistake. If you become aware of a student who is thinking about suicide, please consider a referral to the Counseling Center. You can call us for a consultation if you are unsure of how to intervene or if the student is reluctant to take your referral.

Other signs of distress:

In general the more of the symptoms that are observed, the more likely the individual is to be truly distressed. Also keep in mind changes from a student's previous behavior including a drop in class attendance or a drop in quality of class work, a more generally tense or shady appearance, and the development of inappropriate or bizarre responses such as talking off the subject and rambling or laughing inappropriately. If you have questions or concerns about any particular student we encourage you to call the Counseling Center and we can discuss the matter with you.

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