University students typically encounter a great deal of stress (i.e., academic, financial, social, family, etc.) during the course of their educational experience. While most students cope successfully with the demands of college life, for some the pressures become overwhelming and unmanageable. Students with difficulties have a number of resources available to them. These resources include close friends, relatives, clergy and coaches. In fact, anyone who is seen as caring and trustworthy may be a potential resource in time of trouble.
In your role as faculty or staff, students may perceive you as someone who can lend a helping hand or be a good listener. Your expression of interest and concern may be a critical factor in helping a struggling student find appropriate assistance. And you can always call our office for additional guidance.
Guidelines for talking with a student in distress
If a student wants to talk:
- Accept and respect what is said.
- Help determine what needs to be done or changed.
- Try to focus on an aspect of the problem that is manageable.
- Avoid giving advice, judging, evaluating and criticizing.
- Avoid easy answers such as, "Everything will be all right."
- Help identify resources needed to improve things.
- Help the person recall constructive methods used in the past to cope; get the person to agree to do something constructive to change things.
- Offer yourself as a caring person until professional assistance has been obtained.
- Trust your insight and reactions.
- Let others know your concerns.
- Attempt to address the person's needs and seek appropriate resources.
- Avoid contributing unnecessarily to the person's guilt or sense of failure.
- Do not swear secrecy or offer confidentiality to the person.
- Encourage the person to seek help.
- Respect the student's value system, even if you don't agree.
- When called for, let the person know you are worried about their safety.
- If you are concerned the student may be feeling hopeless and thinking about ending their life, ask if she/he is contemplating suicide. It is important to remember that talking about suicide is a cry for help and is not to be ignored. Seek help from one of the resources listed in this publication.
- After the student leaves your office, make some notes documenting your interactions.
- Consult with others on your experience.
This information was reproduced with permission from the University of Florida Counseling Center.