As a faculty member, teaching assistant (TA), or staff member, you likely encounter students often who are under stress or going through a difficult time. In these roles, you often have an ongoing relationship with students which may allow you to detect changes in an individual’s behavior that may signal a more serious problem.
You can play a unique role in assisting students through a difficult situation or experience. Students appreciate faculty and staff opinions and you can serve as a reliable and confidential source of information about the resources already in place at the University.
Faculty and staff are not expected to take on the role of counselor, but the following steps can help you identify students in distress and provide appropriate assistance, including to those who may have been victimized by sexual violence.
Recognizing Students in Distress
Academic indicators may include:
- Deterioration in quality of work
- A drop in grades
- A negative change in classroom performance
- Repeated requests for extensions
- Missed assignments
- Repeated absences
- Disorganized or erratic performance
- Essays or creative work which indicate extremes of hopelessness, social isolation, rage, fear or despair
Communication indicators may include:
- Direct statements indicating distress, family problems, or other difficulties
- Unprovoked anger or hostility
- Exaggerated personality traits; more withdrawn or more animated than usual
- Excessive dependency
- Expressions of hopelessness, fear, or worthlessness
- Expressions of concern about a student in the class by his/her peers
Physical indicators may include:
- Deterioration in physical appearance
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Excessive fatigue
- Visible changes in weight
Safety risk indicators may include:
- Any written note or verbal statement which has a sense of finality or a suicidal tone to it
- Essays or papers which focus on despair, suicide, acting out violent behaviors, or death
- Statements to the effect that the student is “going away for a long time”
- Giving away prized possessions
- Self-injurious or self-destructive behaviors (this may include abuse of drugs or alcohol)
What You Can Do
Call the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs and speak with the VP to let them know of your concerns. The VP can reach out to the student and offer support or give guidance to you in providing referrals and resources.
You may also consult with UNA Counseling Services to talk through your concerns and potential ways to approach the student. The staff will be glad to talk with you about any worries or concerns you may have and can also provide information regarding referrals and resources.
If you are comfortable doing so, you can approach the student directly and let them know you are concerned due to behaviors you have observed. Listen to their response and be ready to provide information and referrals as appropriate. You need not put yourself in the position of counselor, but can be a valuable resource in encouraging the student to take important steps towards healing.