Recognizing a Distressed Individual
Students in Distress: A Guide for Helping
College students typically encounter a great deal of stress during their university years (i.e., academic, social, family, work, financial). While most students cope successfully with the demands of college life, for some the pressures can become overwhelming and unmanageable. Students may feel alone, isolated, helpless, and even hopeless. These feelings can easily disrupt academic performance and may result in harmful behaviors such as substance abuse and attempts at suicide.
Students, faculty, and staff are in a unique position to identify and help students who are in crisis. This may be particularly true for students who cannot or will not turn to family or friends or even mentors. Anyone who is seen as caring and trustworthy may be a potential resource in times of trouble. Your expression of interest and concern may be a critical factor in saving students' academic careers or even their lives.
The purpose of this page is to help you recognize some of the symptoms of student distress and to provide some specific options for intervention and for referral to campus resources. The UL Lafayette Counseling & Testing Center is available to assist you with problem situations and to consult with you on how to intervene with a particular student and situation.
Tips for recognizing distressed students
- Threatening self-harm or harm to others
- Chronic inability to concentrate or remain focused
- Significant deterioration in hygiene, appearance, or quality of work
- Behavioral problems that are extreme or disruptive
- Sudden aggressive or confrontational behavior
- Noticeable disorientation, confusion, or bizarre behaviors
- Chronic fatigue or low energy, frequently falling asleep in class
- Persistent sadness, low self-esteem or fearfulness
- Heightened anxiety, nervousness, or irritability
- Alcohol/Drug abuse
- Physical abuse
- Sudden decline in attendance and academic performance
- Dramatic weight loss or gain
- Isolation from others
- Racial/Cultural Adjustment
- Relationship or Lesbian/Gay concerns
- Sexual Assault
- Extreme test anxiety
What can you do?
- Talk to the student in private when both of you are not rushed or preoccupied
- Listen to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non-threatening way
- Give hope by assuring the student that things can get better
- Avoid judging, evaluating, and criticizing even if the student asks your opinion
- Maintain clear and consistent boundaries and expectations
- Stress the importance of getting help before a situation exacerbates
- Suggest Counseling & Testing as a resource that is FREE and confidential
- Consult when in doubt about the appropriateness of an intervention: Call the Dean of Students Office (482-6276), the University Police Department (482-6447), or Counseling & Testing (482-6480). A student whose behavior has become threatening, violent, or significantly disruptive may need a different kind of approach.
What happens when a student comes to the counseling and testing center?
Students should make their own appointment if possible. You can assist this process by offering the student immediate use of your phone. Students can also visit the Counseling Center to schedule an appointment. The receptionist will arrange for the student to meet with a staff member as soon as possible. In urgent situations, we will assist the student immediately. The student should be encouraged to state if they need to be seen that day. Students have access to unlimited, confidential, counseling sessions free of charge.
Services we offer include:
- Individual counseling
- Couples counseling
- Group counseling
- Family counseling
- Classroom presentations
Faculty & Staff
The Counseling & Testing Center provides the same services to faculty and staff free of charge. The referral information explained above also applies to co-workers.
Appointments can be arranged by calling (337) 482-6480 or stopping by the Saucier Wellness Center (OK Allen Hall) during the Center’s hours (7:30 a.m.-11:45 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.-5:00 p.m.) Monday through Thursday and (7:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.) on Friday. In case of emergencies after hours, contact the University Police at (337) 482-6447 for the Counselor-on-Call.