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How Faculty and Staff Can Help

Because of your close and frequent contact with students you are often the first to observe the signs of distress in students. As a trusted authority figure, you can be influential in encouraging a student to take steps towards better self care and resolution of crises. Simply showing concern and being responsive can make a difference.

You also have multiple roles with students: instructor, mentor, limit-setter, friend, etc.  It is also important to know the limits of your roles and responsibilities so that you bring other resources to bear, especially at times of crisis.  

Ways Faculty And Staff Can Help

Recognize signs of distress

  • Academic difficulties
    • Student Absences – Absences may range from no attendance at all for an extended period, intermittent attendance, or chronic lateness.  Students who have not shown up for some time without dropping a course are most often struggling and feeling immobilized by depressed mood or extremely avoidant due to excessive anxiety and falling behind in their assignments.  It is worth checking in with the student or contacting their advisor to understand what is going on for them.
    • Student Failure – If a student is obviously challenged by the course or show a significant decline from their usual level of performance, they are likely in significant distress.  If academic failure also threatens eligibility to remain in a particular program or loss of an important career goal then their distress may escalate into a crisis for them.  
    • Other Concerns – Chronic procrastination and request for special consideration may signal that the student needs additional academic or emotional supports.  Perfectionistic expectations about performance, test anxiety, or excessive need for reassurance may indicate high levels of stress.
  • Unusual behavior
    • Disjointed, confused thoughts or behavior – A students comments in class or written assignments may convey gross problems with perceiving or organizing reality or a preoccupation with strange beliefs or paranoid feelings.  
    • Personal Appearance and Demeanor – Listlessness, falling asleep in class, poor hygiene, or appearing unkempt or in an altered state of consciousness may indicate trouble functioning.
    • Excessive Emotional Displays – Pronounced irritability, rudeness, hyperactivity, or other intense emotions (appears very sad or upset) can indicate that the student has started to feel overwhelmed and is indirectly reaching out for help.  
  • Sources of stress / reactions
    • Stress can originate from both external events and from internal experiences or expectations. The reactions to stress can be manifested in physical, behavioral, emotional, and cognitive signs.     
  • Warning signs of suicidal risk
    • An attentive, concerned response to early signs of distress may be what prevents a crisis or feelings of hopelessness from developing. Be aware though of expressions of hopelessness and helplessness that may indicate thoughts about self harm. The comments, written assignments, or emails from students may convey such concern.  Refer to Warning Signs for more details.

Encourage self care behavior

Approach and be responsive

  • Find an appropriate time and place to speak with the student
    • Ask the student to speak to you after class or in office hours. Avoid singling them out in front of peers. 
  • Describe what you observe
    • Be objective by stating what you observe and are concerned about and avoid making assumptions about why the student is distressed (e.g., I noticed you have missed class 5 of the last 7 days; you seem pretty upset…, unhappy…, confused about what is expected…etc.)
  • State your concern for the student
    • Indicate that you are more concerned about their well being than their performance and that you want to help.
  • Inquire
    • Ask about what seems to be wrong or how you could help.
  • Listen
    • Just listen, carefully, sensitively, without judgment. Give them your undivided attention.
    • Accept
    • Accept the person “as is”, without agreeing or disagreeing with his/her behavior or point of view.
  • Empathize
    • Sincerely communicate your understanding of the issue as they describe it, in both content and feeling.
  • Offer Hope
    • Help the person understand that the situation can improve, and that things will not always seem so bad. Do not try to fix too quickly, criticize, moralize, correct, or make decisions for the person.  
  • Encourage
    • Encourage the person to continue to talk about their issues, and remind them that it is normal to talk with someone he/she can trust when in need of help.  Talking is a natural way to relieve stressful emotions.
  • Offer Options
    • The student may find it helpful to talk also with their R.A. or Community Director if they live on campus. They may want to talk with a trusted faculty member, administrator or staff member. They may want to talk with a family member, family physician, or family clergy.  Or they may be open to talking with a therapist at Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). It’s free and confidential.
  • Be Willing to visit CAPS with the Student
    • If the student appears distressed enough and open to your help, you may want to seize the moment by offering to visit CAPS with them
  • Be Available and Follow-Up
    • Remain open to further discussions, let them know that you are available if they need you.  Check back with the person, because you care about how they are feeling.  
  • Remember Your Role and Your Own Limits
    • Your role is to provide support and to suggest other options when support is not enough.  Remember your own limits, do not become more involved than your time and skill permits.  If the issues are beyond your ability to help, you may want to call and talk with a therapist at CAPS about how you can best help.

Consult with CAPS staff

  • Pick up the phone and call the CAPS Urgent Care and Consultation Team for advice - 919-966-3658. There are CAPS therapists on-call daily to take referrals from students or faculty and staff, or just to offer some consultation to a faculty member with concerns for a student.
  • Invite the student to accompany you to CAPS and visit the office with them. CAPS therapists on the Urgent Care and Consultation Team are available daily to meet with students for same day assistance.
  • If appropriate, have the student call from your office and speak with the CAPS Urgent Care and Consultation Team. The CAPS therapist may invite the student to come over to CAPS the same day.

Encourage the student to visit CAPS as soon as possible.

The student may access urgent care without an appointment on Monday - Friday between 8:00 am and 5:00 pm. 

  • If the student is reluctant to seek help (and this is not an emergency)
    • Remember that seeking therapy is a personal choice.
    • No one can make a person's choice for them.
    • Don't force the issue, simply restate your concerns and the available options.
    • Suggest that confronting a problem is a positive sign of health and maturity.
    • Acknowledge, validate, and discuss the person's concerns about visiting CAPS.
    • Remind them that the therapists at CAPS have years of expertise in helping college-age people.
    • Remind them that CAPS is free and confidential.
    • Be friendly, remain open and available to help in the future.
    • Suggest they take some time to think it over.
  • If this is an emergency
    • What constitutes an emergency
      • A suicidal attempt, gesture, threat, or stated intention; i.e., behavior posing a threat to self
      • A homicidal attempt, gesture, threat, or stated intention; i.e., behavior posing a threat to others
      • Loss of contact with reality
      • Inability to care for oneself
    • Basic guidelines
      • Stay calm, as this will help you respond more effectively, and also help to reduce the student’s anxiety or agitation.
      • If the student appears to be dangerous to self or others, do not leave the student unattended.
      • Make arrangements for appropriate intervention or aid.
    • Campus resources
      • Phone consultation with a CAPS staff member is available at 919-966-3658 Monday – Friday, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
      • You can bring the student over to CAPS for an emergency consultation or appointment Monday – Friday, 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
      • You can consult with the Dean of Students Office (919-966-4042) which can be helpful in locating a student or encouraging them to seek evaluation.
      • If this is after usual office hours, Campus Health Services (919-966-2281) is open until 6:00 pm Monday – Friday and from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm Saturday and Sunday.  You can call 919-966-2281 after 6:00 pm on weekdays and after 5:00 pm on weekends for assistance or go directly to the UNC Hospitals Emergency Room.
      • If the student is unusually aggressive or otherwise unmanageable, the UNC campus police (919-962-8100) are available to offer assistance.