Concern About a Student
Faculty members often serve as mentors and advocates for students striving to reach their educational and career goals. Through the course of these activities, students may look to faculty for an adult perspective or guidance on many issues that impact academics. Students may seek advice from faculty members when faced with personal concerns such as:
- Academic difficulty
- Experience of stress or burnout
- Feelings of anxiety, including performance anxiety, general anxiety and social anxiety
- Lack of familial support or familial conflict
- Feelings of sadness, depression or lack of motivation
- Interpersonal conflict or feeling unsafe on campus
- Problems with drug or alcohol use
- Recent loss or trauma
In addition, through teaching and advising, faculty members interact with a high number of students. This puts faculty members in a position to observe odd or disturbing student behaviors long before mental health professionals have a chance to become aware. Faculty members might observe disturbing behaviors that indicate a mental health concern, such as:
- Written work that indicates disorganized or tangential thoughts
- Marked changes in the quality or completion of work or class attendance
- Threatening or disruptive behavior that interrupts class
- Marked weight loss or appearance of extreme fatigue
- Marked changes in grooming or hygiene
- Appearing intoxicated in class
- Discussion of suicide, self harm or harm to others in conversation or written work
There are opportunities and risks for faculty intervening when confronted with concerns about students. Faculty can maximize opportunity and decrease risk by remembering these key points:
- The suggestion that a student seeks mental health services can make the difference between whether or not a student seeks those services. Suggestion from a trusted individual, such as faculty, can have a powerful impact.
- Faculty need to maintain appropriate boundaries so that they do not learn or solicit more information than is necessary to make an appropriate suggestion to seek mental health services. Often, students in distress exhibit inappropriate or excessive help-seeking behavior that can be deleterious to the faculty-student relationship.
- Any indication of suicidal thought, intent or any issue of violence, threats or student safety should be taken very seriously. Suggestion to seek mental health services should be made, or faculty may consider reporting a critical incident to Southern Miss CARES. Click here for more information on Southern Miss CARES.
- Faculty can call Student Counseling Services at any time to consult with a staff member about proper ways to intervene with a student of concern.
Faculty are sometimes reticent to approach students in distress and may be unsure of how to show concern. Here are some suggestions for broaching a discussion with students in distress:
- Talk in a quiet, private area away from others
- Show concern for the student's welfare
- Mention grades and performance only as indicators that let you know the student may be having personal difficulties worthy of your concern
- If you have noticed overt changes in the student's behavior, attendance, appearance, hygiene approach the subject by highlighting your observation and conveying concern and willingness to help. For example, you might say, "I've noticed that you haven't looked well the past few weeks. I am wondering if you are having any difficulties keeping up in school. I am wondering if I can help in any way."
- If you feel that stress or psychological functioning may be impacting the student, make them aware that the student counseling services is on campus and offers no cost services to students. Many students remain unaware that Student Counseling Services is available to them.