Helping Distressed Students

For Faculty: Helping Distressed Students

prepared by the University Counseling and Wellbeing Center

In a 2006 American College Health Association (ACHA) survey of college students, stress was the most commonly cited “impediment to academic performance.”

While most students have adequate coping skills, some find themselves unable to function during stressful times.  45% of females and 36% of males surveyed by the ACHA reported having felt “so depressed it was difficult to function” at least once in the past year.

In most cases, students can benefit from reminders to attend to their basic self-care needs, such as adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise, taking time for relaxing and fun activities, and talking to supportive peers, family, and faculty/staff.

However, there are times when students need more.  Look for the following behaviors as warning signs:

  • Poor emotional control. Examples include: open hostility; outbursts of emotion that are disproportionate to the event; uncontrolled crying or inappropriate laughter.
  • Excessive moodiness or worry, or dramatic changes in mood.
  • Depressed mood that lasts for longer than 2 weeks.
  • Expressions of universal mistrust or paranoia.
  • Suicidal talk or behavior.
  • Scars, scabs, burn marks may indicate purposeful self-harm.
  • Missing classes or work often might be due to substance use or hangover.
  • Significant changes in grooming, appearance; extreme changes in weight.
  • Significant changes in quality of work; decrease in performance or failure to complete assignments.

Such dramatic changes in a student’s behavior may indicate a more serious mental health concern and should be addressed by talking to the student one-on-one to express concern and make a referral to theUniversity Counseling and Wellbeing Center (UCWC).  If you have concerns about a student but aren’t sure how to proceed, the UCWC staff are available to consult with you regarding your next step.  We are available at ext. 6204.  Our website also contains information for faculty and staff on “Recognizing and Assisting Troubled Students.”

For Students: Managing Stress

When students are asked about which health and wellness issues cause the most disruption to their school performance, the number one answer is “Stress.”  The most important thing you can do to manage your stress level is to attend to your basic needs.  This is what we at the University Counseling and Wellbeing Center like to call “Self-Care 101.”    Here are some things that can help:

  • Make sure you eat healthy food regularly.  Skipping meals robs you of the energy you need to mobilize your coping resources.
  • Get plenty of sleep, but not too much!  Most people need from 6-8 hours of sleep every night.  Go to bed and get up at around the same time every day, and avoid studying or reading in bed.
  • Do some kind of physical activity that you enjoy – running, swimming, playing sports, working out.  Even walks around the campus can help you feel better emotionally and help reduce stress.
  • Talk to friends and family who are supportive.  Isolating yourself can make things worse.
  • Avoid using drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate.
  • Find activities that are relaxing and soothing to you and make at least a little time for those activities each day.  Listen to your favorite music, take a hot bath or shower, meditate, watch your favorite television show, paint a picture.
  • Give yourself permission to not worry about your problems for part of each day.
  • Write down things you need to remember so you don’t have to “hold” them all in your mind.
  • Attend to your spirituality.  Go to church, synagogue or mosque.  Pray, read uplifting books, speak to a spiritual leader.
  • Find humor in your life.  Spend time with people who make you laugh.  Watch a funny movie.
  • When feeling overwhelmed, try to remember what has helped you in the past.  Make a list of these things and do them.

If you find that your usual strategies for managing stress aren’t working, you may need more help.  In a recent survey, 35-45% of college students reported having at least one time in the past year when they felt too depressed to function.  Ongoing difficulties with sleep, excessive moodiness or crying, difficulty concentrating that interferes with studying, extreme anxiety, or depressed mood that lasts longer than two weeks are a cause for concern.

The University Counseling and Wellbeing Center(636 Fisher Hall) offers free and confidential counseling for all currently enrolled students.  If you think you might be suffering from depression or another mental health issue, you can call our office for an appointment at ext. 6204.  If you’d like more information first, visit the University Counseling and Wellbeing Center's website.