Helping Others: When You are Concerned About a Student

Signs That a Student May Be Struggling

Observable red flags suggesting that a student may be struggling and in need of help include:

  • Diminished attendance at classes, work, or co-curricular activities.
  • Deteriorating academic performance.
  • Changes in class participation.
  • Disruptive classroom behavior.
  • Withdrawal from others; spending lots of time alone.
  • Signs of depression: low mood, irritability, frequent crying, changes in appetite and weight, changes in sleep, low energy and motivation, loss of interest in usually pleasurable activities, and diminished concentration.
  • Prolonged or very intense emotionality.
  • Extreme mood changes.
  • References to death or suicide; expressions of despair or hopelessness.
  • Self-injury, such as cutting or burning.
  • Signs of anxiety or agitation.
  • Significantly heightened or extreme activity level.
  • Poor coping and problem solving skills.
  • Marked distrust of most other people; paranoia.
  • Behavior that is a clear change from what is typical for the student.
  • Conversations that do not make sense; signs that the student is not in good contact with reality.
  • Angry, threatening or aggressive behavior.
  • Talk about physically harming someone else and/or references to violence, death, or destruction. Read about violence prevention.
  • Marked lack of interpersonal skills and related social isolation.
  • Significant decline in personal hygiene.
  • Tension headaches, changes in eating patterns, sleep disturbances, fatigue, stomachaches, and other physical pain symptoms.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Seriously restricted food intake, binging and vomiting, marked weight loss, excessive exercise, other signs of disordered eating.
  • Student is troubled about a difficult experience or trauma. Examples might include sexual assault, death of a family member or friend, a relationship breakup, serious family problems, or a personal or family health crisis.

Additional resources for helping students are available for parents and for faculty and staff.

How to Intervene

  • Speak to the student in private. 
  • Let the student know you are concerned.
  • Be specific about what you have observed that concerns you.
  • Take the time to listen in a non-judgmental and respectful manner.
  • Try not to offer solutions early in the conversation; problem solving needs to wait until the student feels heard and understood.
  • When the time is right, gently suggest the option of counseling.
  • Share information about the Counseling Service and how to make an appointment. (click the link for our on-line scheduling)
  • If there is information that you want the Counseling Service to know about the student's situation and your concerns, call the office and speak with one of the counselors. Explain to the student that you plan to do this and why. Then the counselor can acknowledge to the student that they is aware of the information you have shared.
  • The Counseling Service generally cannot promise to keep secret the fact that you called or the information you shared. We will usually need to talk with the student about your call, if the student is our client or becomes our client. In serious situations, we may need to share your report with the Student Engagement Office, with parents, or with others who can intervene to prevent serious harm. (However, if revealing your identity as the source of the report would place you or others in serious danger, we will not do so.)
  • If you are firmly unwilling to have the student of concern know about your call to the Counseling Service, please ask to speak to a counselor about your concerns and do not share your name, the student's name, or any identifying information about the student. A counselor can listen and talk with you in general terms about the kinds of difficulties the student is having and how you can respond.
  • Please know that we will document any information you share with us about an identified student who is our client (or becomes our client) in the client's electronic counseling record. The client does have a right to see this record upon request.
  • Follow up with the student to see how the first counseling session went and if the student plans to continue.
  • You may also wish to share information with the Student Engagement  at (563) 387-1020 or Residence Life Office at (563) 387-1330, to enlist their support for the student. You may also seek intervention for the student by submitting a Care Report to the Student Engagement Office.

If You Think the Student Needs Emergency Help

If you are worried about the immediate personal safety of the student or others, access emergency help right away.

If the Student Wants to Explore Off-Campus Evaluation or Therapy

The student can explore tele-mental health appointments through My SSP.  The Counseling Service or Student Engagement Office can assist the student with off-campus therapy or assessment referrals.

If You Are Unsure How to Approach the Student or the Student Refuses Counseling

Call the Counseling Service, the Student Engagement Office, or the student's hall director to consult about the situation and make a plan.