Tips for Faculty/Staff

How to Assist Emotionally Distressed Students

Introduction

Most of the student population at CSU, Chico are not permanent residents of Butte or surrounding counties. This means that when the majority of our students first matriculate or return after a semester break they leave many of the support systems (e.g., family and friends) they may have used to cope with life’s changes and distressing events. Although many students quickly establish new and effective support systems in Chico, the difficulty that others have in doing this may seriously interfere with their personal and academic goals and performance.

As a faculty or staff member interacting daily with students, you are in an excellent position to recognize behavior changes that characterize an emotionally troubled student. You may observe that at certain times of the year, particularly during midterms, finals, and holidays, students experience increased anxiety. A student’s behavior, especially if it is inconsistent with your previous observations, could well constitute an attempt to draw attention to his/her plight…"a cry for help.”

This information was created to help you when these difficult occasions occur. It offers straightforward advice, techniques, and suggestions on how to cope with, intervene, and assist troubled and/or difficult students in or out of the classroom. The original version of this information was created in 1983 at Humboldt State University. Since that time, it has been adapted and amended by many campuses whose counseling center directors participate in the Organization of Counseling Center Directors in Higher Education (OCCDHE).

Signs of Distress

  • Bizarre, alarming, or dangerous behavior
  • Confusion
  • Depression, lack of energy
  • Disheveled appearance/change in personal hygiene
  • Excessive procrastination/poorly prepared work
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Increased irritability, aggressive or abrasive behavior
  • Indecisiveness
  • Missed classes/assignments
  • Mood swings
  • Nervousness
  • Persistent worrying
  • Restlessness
  • Social isolation
  • Withdrawal, fearfulness

How concerned you are when you observe one or more of these signs depends on such things as how severe the behavior is or how this is a change from previous observations of the student. Several of these signs may be more worrisome than just one of these indicators. You are not expected to be an expert here. But seeing such signs may indicate the student is in distress.

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