As a faculty or staff member interacting daily with students, you are in an excellent position to recognize behavioral changes that characterize the emotionally troubled student. A student’s behavior, especially if it is inconsistent with your previous observations, could well constitute an attempt to draw attention to her/his plight as “a cry for help.” 

Your ability to recognize the signs of emotional distress, and your courage to acknowledge your concerns directly to the student, often are noted by students as the most significant factor in their successful problem resolution. Often times our own feelings (i.e. uneasiness, anxiety, fear) can be excellent indicators that something is not quite right.

If you ever have these types of feelings and are not quite sure what to do, this guide can be helpful. You are also welcome to call Counseling and Wellness Center for a consultation whenever you are unsure of a situation at (360) 412-6123.

Distinguishing between distressed, disruptive, and dangerous student behavior

Distressed: Behavior that causes us to feel alarmed, upset, or worried (most common).

Disruptive: Behavior that interferes with or interrupts the education process of other students or the normal business functions of the university.

Dangerous: Behavior that leaves us feeling frightened and in fear for our personal safety or the safety of others.

General rule: If it doesn't feel right, it's usually not right! (Trust your gut.)

Signs of distress include:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Confusion
  • Persistent worrying
  • Social isolation
  • Increased irritability
  • Bizarre behavior
  • Missed classes / assignments
  • Procrastination
  • Restlessness
  • Disheveled appearance
  • Mood swings
  • Indecisiveness
  • Depression

Guidelines for interaction

Openly acknowledging to students that you are aware of their distress, that you are sincerely concerned about their welfare, and that you are willing to help them explore their alternatives, can have a profound effect. We encourage you, whenever possible, to speak directly and honestly to a student when you sense that she/he is in academic and/or personal distress.

  1. Request to see the student in private. This may help minimize the embarrassment and defensiveness.
  2. Briefly acknowledge your observations and perceptions of the situation and express your concerns directly and honestly.
  3. Listen carefully to what is troubling the student and try to see the issues from her/his point of view without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing.
  4. Attempt to identify the student's problem or concern, as well as your own concerns or uneasiness. You can help by exploring alternatives to deal with the problem.
  5. Comment directly on what you have observed without interpreting or judging. Strange and inappropriate behavior should not be ignored.
  6. Involve yourself only as far as you want to go. At times, in an attempt to reach or help a troubled student, you may become more involved than time or skill permits. Extending oneself to others always involves some risk — but it can be a gratifying experience when kept within realistic limits. If the burden becomes too heavy, however, call and consult with the Counseling and Wellness Center counselors.

Consultation is available

If you are unsure of how to handle a specific student, we encourage you to consult with one of the Counseling and Wellness Center Staff at (360) 412-6123.  Please inform the receptionist who you are (faculty, staff, and administrators) and ask to speak with one of our counselors.  A brief consultation may help you sort out the relevant issues, explore alternative approaches and suggest new ways to cope with the anxiety or stress the student may be experiencing. Overall, when dealing with most students in crisis situations, conveying your concern and willingness to help in any way you can (including referral) is probably the most important thing you can do. Your support, encouragement (including referral), and reassurance will be particularly valuable to a student in crisis.

Referral to the Counseling and Wellness Center

When you have determined that a referral to Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC) is appropriate, you can be most helpful by clearly and concisely telling the student why you think counseling would be helpful. You might also tell the student a few facts about our services.  For instance, all services are free to regularly enrolled students.  Professional counselors provide counseling Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

All discussions are confidential except when the student presents a danger to self and others. To ensure prompt attention, it is best to call in advance for an appointment. Having the student make the call increases her/his responsibility and commitment to come for counseling; however, there may be times, especially if the student is in crisis, when it is advantageous for you to call and make the appointment and/or accompany the student to our office. We will schedule the student with one of our counselors as quickly as possible.

— DO —

  • Have the student call our receptionist at (360) 412-6123 or accompany them to counseling.
  • If making an appointment for the student or walking them to the counseling center, call and inform the receptionist that you will be bringing a student to the center.  This helps us prepare our schedule to accommodate your student.

When to call 911

  • When you believe that you or another person is in immediate danger.
  • When you believe that the student is about to harm her/himself.
  • When you believe that the student is out of control and is disrupting the classroom.

Call the Office of Public Safety after you call 911.