Identifying a Student in Distress

Sometimes, faculty and staff question when a referral for personal or psychological counseling is warranted. Certainly, the clearest case for making a referral would be when a student specifically indicates the need for personal or psychological counseling. Another reason for making a referral is when a student shares a personal problem that is beyond your range of knowledge or you feel uncomfortable handling. Other times, you may observe a student who is exhibiting emotional or behavioral signs that suggest he/she is in distress. In such cases, a referral for personal or psychological counseling is often indicated. See the list below for some examples.

Signs of Distress

  • sudden changes in academic performance
  • interpersonal problems with classmates
  • poor class attendance
  • marked change in personal hygiene
  • aggressive, dangerous or disruptive behaviors
  • excessive worry, nervousness or agitation
  • social withdrawal or isolation
  • mental confusion, bizarre behavior and/or inappropriate affect
  • overly dependent, passive or fearful
  • appearance of alcohol or other drug impairment (e.g., smell of alcohol or marijuana, slurred speech, unsteady gait, blood shot eyes, dilated pupils, defensive/negative attitude)
  • symptoms of depression (e.g., persistent sadness and hopelessness, feelings of worthlessness, irrational guilt, sudden weight loss or gain, sleep impairments, fatigue/listlessness, frequent crying, irritability, thoughts/talk of suicide)

Keep in mind that it is not your role or responsibility to diagnose the exact nature of a student’s problem. We are only suggesting that if a student exhibits any of the signs noted above, he/she may benefit from counseling. If you are in doubt as to whether a referral for personal/psychological counseling is indicated, you may contact Counseling Services staff in the Wellness Center for assistance. Our counseling staff will provide consultation in such cases, to help determine if a referral to our office would be beneficial.