Identifying At-Risk Students
At one time or another, everyone feels depressed or upset. However, there are three levels of student distress which, when present over a period of time, suggest that the problems are more than the ‘normal’ reactions to life stressors.
Level 1 Distress
Although not disruptive to others in the classroom or elsewhere, these behaviors in students may indicate that something is wrong, and that help may be needed:
- Serious grade problems.
- Unaccountable change from good to poor performance.
- Change from frequent attendance to excessive absences.
- Change in pattern of interaction.
- Marked change in mood, motor activity, or speech.
- Marked change in physical appearance.
Level 2 Disturbance
These behaviors in students may indicate significant emotional distress, or a reluctance or inability to acknowledge a need for personal help:
- Repeated request for special consideration.
- New or regularly occurring behavior which pushes the limits and may interfere with class management, or be disruptive to others.
- Unusual or exaggerated emotional response.
Level 3 Dysregulation
These behaviors may show that the student is in crisis and needs emergency care:
- Highly disruptive behavior (hostility, aggression, etc.).
- Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech, disjointed thoughts).
- Loss of contact with reality (seeing/hearing things that are not there, beliefs or actions at odds with reality).
- Overt suicidal thoughts (suicide is a current option).
- Homicidal threats.
- Individuals deficient in skills that regulate emotion, cognition, self, behavior, and relationships.
What You Can Do
Responses to Level 1 or 2 Behaviors
- Calmly 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 gist of what the student is saying.
- Clarify the costs and benefits of each option for handling the problem from the student’s point of view.
- Respect the student’s value system.
- Ask if the student is considering suicide.
- Make appropriate referrals if necessary.
- Make sure the student understands what action is necessary.
Responses to Level 3 Behavior
- Stay calm.
- Contact the BIT and/or emergency responders right away.
Talking to Students About Your Concerns
Be cognizant about the limits of your ability to help. You can help them get the support they need by informing them of our counseling services. Explain that students visit the counselor for a variety of reasons. If a student is receptive to seeing a counselor, provide them with the Counseling and Life Development phone number 314-968-7030, or walk them over to the Counseling and Life Development office. Some statements that might help you start a dialogue are:
- “Sounds like you are really struggling with _________. Many people find it helpful to talk confidentially with someone that is outside of the situation.”
- “I want to help you get the help you need and deserve.”
- “Meeting with a University counselor is confidential, free, and will not go on your academic record.”
- “These are services your tuition pays for; take advantage of them.”
Do’s and Don’ts for Responding to Suicide Gestures
- DO show that you take the student’s feelings seriously.
- DO let the student know that you want to help.
- DO listen attentively and empathize.
- DO reassure that, with help and motivation, (s)he can develop a more positive outlook.
- DO stay close until help is available, or the risk has passed.
- DON’T try to shock or challenge the student.
- DON’T assume the student is only seeking attention.
- DON’T become argumentative.
- DON’T react with shock or disdain at the student’s thoughts and feelings.
- DON’T discount the student’s distress.
More Tips for Faculty
In the Classroom
- Create opportunities for connections in your classroom and work to engage the withdrawn, or socially isolated, student.
- Phrase feedback positively whenever possible.
- During critiques, emphasize the purpose, process, and benefit of them. Seek to normalize the experience by using examples, such as an invited upperclassman’s work.
- Understand that some students lack basic life skills and are playing catch-up in many areas.
- Identify the Counseling and Life Development counselors (314-968-7030), as a resource regarding self-care, stress management, test anxiety, depression, or other pertinent topics.
Outside the Classroom
- Refer students to programs that will help them improve study skills and time management (academic resource center, writing center).
- Identify career counseling as a tool for personal growth. Contact career services at 314-968-6982 for more information.
- Encourage student involvement in events, campus clubs, or community activities. Contact John Ginsburg, director of university center and student activities, for ideas, handouts or resources at 314-968-7105.
- Inform students with disabilities about the self-identification process to utilize accommodations. Contact Barbara Stewart, director of academic resource center at 314-968-7495 for more information.
- Engage with students at activities and on campus – they will feel valued!
- Consult with the BIT as needed for feedback. We are here to support the students and you!