Not Sure Whether to Call for Help?
If you can't decide whether what you're observing in the student warrants police or emergency services involvement, perhaps the following will be helpful. At one time or another, everyone feels depressed or upset. However, there are three situations involving student distress which might suggest that the problems are more than the “normal” ones.
Some of the ways CCPH might help:
• Assess the seriousness of the situation;
• Suggest potential resources;
• Find the best way to make a referral;
• Clarifying your own feelings about the student and the situation
These behaviors usually show that the student is in crisis and needs emergency care:
• Highly disruptive behavior (hostility, aggression, etc.)
• Violent or homicidal threats
• Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech, disjointed thoughts)
• Apparent loss of contact with reality (seeing/hearing things that are not there, beliefs or actions at odds with reality)
• Overt suicidal thoughts, gestures, threats
Responses to Imminent Dangers /Critical Problems
• Stay calm.
• Call 911 from a campus phone or (413) 545-2121 to reach the UMass police.
• Inform your chair or manager
Although not disruptive to others in your classroom or office, the following may indicate that something is wrong and that help may be needed:
• inappropriate or exaggerated emotional reactions to situations
• OR a lack of emotional response to stressful events
• depressed or apathetic mood, excessive activity or talkativeness, evidence of crying,
• noticeable change in appearance and hygiene, alcohol on the breath, etc.
• Behavior which disrupts your office, or class or student interactions
• Unusual or noticeably changed interaction patterns, e.g. avoidance of participation, excessive anxiety when called upon to speak, domination of discussions, etc.
• Inability to remain awake in class
• Extremely poor academic performance, or a change from high to low grades
• Excessive absences, especially if prior class attendance was good
• Repeated attempts to obtain deadline extensions or postpone tests
Possible Responses to Ambiguous Problematic 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 main point of what the student is saying
• Clarify the pros and cons of each option for handling the problem
• Ask direct questions, e.g. it is okay to ask if they are drunk, confused, or have thoughts of harming themselves
• Make appropriate referrals if necessary
• Make sure the student understands what action is necessary
• Inform your chair or manager
• Consult with the On Call clinician at CCPH at (413) 545-2337.
It is especially important that staff and faculty are aware of what can be done to prevent the tragedy of suicide on college campuses.
What We Know about Suicide
• Suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students
• Most people who die by suicide have given some warning of their intent.
• Students who are thinking about suicide will tell peers before anyone else
• 80% don't come to Counseling Services, therefore we need a community approach.
• Most suicidal people don't want to die, they just want the pain to stop.
• Asking someone if they're suicidal will NOT make them more suicidal. In fact by directly asking, you may prevent someone from attempting suicide.
Responses to Suicidality:
• Show that you take the student's feelings seriously
• Let the student know that you want to help
• Listen attentively and empathize
• Reassure that with help they can recover
• Walk the student over to Counseling Services if it is between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday
• If it is after five or on a weekend, call UMass Police or the On Call clinician for help.
• Don't go it alone. Helping someone who is feeling suicidal is hard, demanding, and draining work
Less helpful responses
• Challenge the student
• Analyze the student's motives
• React with shock or disdain at the student's thoughts and feelings
• Minimize the student's distress
• Ignore your limitations (e.g., not consulting with available resources).
• Put yourself in a compromising position of “promising” not to consult with others.
Referring Troubled or Suicidal Students
Even though a student asks you for help with a problem and you are willing to help, there are circumstances when you should suggest other resources:
• You are not comfortable in handling the situation.
• The help necessary is not your expertise.
• Personality differences may interfere with your ability to help.
• You know the student personally (friend, neighbor, friend of a friend) and think you may not be objective enough to help.
• The student is reluctant to discuss the situation with you.
• You feel overwhelmed or pressed for time.
How to Make a Referral
• Be frank with the student about the limits of your time, ability, expertise, and/or objectivity.
• Let the student know that you see their strengths and motivation, and that getting assistance from a professional resource will help them get closer to their goals.
• Assure them that many students seek help over the course of their college career.
• Assist the student in choosing the best resource.
• Try to help the student know what to expect if they follow through on the referral.
• Consider whether you or the student or both should make the initial contact.
What to say
• "We all need some kind of help at some time, even if it's only talking to someone who can listen without criticism.”
• "Counseling has been helpful to many others like yourself. You can try it and see if it helps."
• "If you don't feel comfortable talking to me about these matters, perhaps you would find it easier to talk to a counselor, privately and confidentially."
• “We can call CCPH together or I can walk over with you if you'd like.”
All students have to do is walk-in and ask to be seen. We always have someone on duty to meet as soon as possible with students who come in. The clinician will talk with the student and make plans for further appointments as needed. If you accompany a student to our office, please let the receptionist know and we will assist you immediately.
Seeking services for myself
Faculty and staff can be seen at Faculty and Staff Assistance Program.