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Faculty & Staff Help

Noticing Signs of Distress Among Students and Colleagues

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What are the signs and symptoms of distress?

Common signs that a person may be distressed can include (APA, 2013):

  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Dramatic changes in sleeping routines—either sleeping more, less, or poorly overall
  • Changes in weight, such as weight gain or loss
  • Decline in performance in school or work or other responsibilities
  • More absences at work or school for other obligations
  • Changes in mood which may include irritability, anger, sadness, or anxiety
  • Withdrawal from social activities and relationships

What are the warning signs of suicide?

Reporting on Suicide lists these warning signs that a person may be contemplating suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

What can you do if you notice signs of distress?

You can review How to Help in an Emotional Crisis from the American Psychological Association for suggestions on how to help others.

Talk with the Student

    • You may invite a student to meet with you or send an email to a student, particularly if they have not been attending class, to meet with you.
    • In meeting with a student, you can use the Validate-appreciate-refer model to share that you’re concerned about them as they’ve seemed distressed/different lately. Offering to listen non-judgmentally to what they feel comfortable sharing and validate their feelings to support them. Unless you are a mental health professional, you do not have to know what to do to help them other than sharing your appreciation that they shared this information with you and referring them to resources (see resources below) to get the help they.
    • Should the student not respond to meet with you, you can express your concerns in an email and/or file a Cares report as described below.
    • West Virginia University has some great advice on how to respond and speak directly to the individual. This is also addressed in USM's Mental Health First Aid Training; check the Center for Faculty Development for upcoming dates.
    • When to file a CARES Report: If you have a concern about a current USM student (undergraduate or graduate), you can file a CARES report at any time. When you file a report, someone from the professional CARES team will reach out to the person to make sure they are okay and, if necessary, help connect them with resources.
    • Different reports can be filed for mental health concerns, academic concerns, academic integrity violations, or ethical concerns
    • If the issue seems too urgent to submit a Cares report—such as the person is making threats to harm themselves or others or poses a threat to campus and the community-- call the University Police Department at 601-266-4986 or dial 9-1-1

Talk to Your Colleague

  • Find time to broach the subject with your colleague. Approach your colleague in a place where privacy can be ensured. If needed, schedule a meeting to make sure you have adequate time and privacy to talk.
  • Similar to talking with a student, you can use the Validate-appreciate-refer model to share that you’re concerned about them as they’ve seemed distressed/different lately. You can also learn strategies to facilitate these conversations through the Mental Health First Aid certification. In this training, participants learn to consider the acronym ALGEE—Approach and assess the risk for harm, Listen non-judgmentally, Give reassurance and information, Encourage seeking professional help, and Encourage self-help and other support strategies.
  • Additionally, if you have a concern about a fellow faculty or staff member reach out to the Office of Human Resources.

Connect Students to Resources

  • Utilize the website to help connect students to the types of resources they need, including emotional, academic, financial, social, and other resources.
  • Students have access to free, confidential, counseling through Student Counseling Services (SCS). Students can also seek immediate support from SCS on campus on Monday- Friday 8 am to 4 pm, by seeking a walk-in appointment. If you feel comfortable, you can escort a student to SCS in Bond Hall to utilize walk-in services.
  • Students in crisis can utilize the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988.
  • People respond to grief in different ways and may experience difficulties in response to a loss for weeks or months later. Should you notice a student who seems to be having a difficult time, submit a CARES concern about the student so they can get proactive support.

Connect Colleagues to Resources

  • Utilize the website to help faculty and staff to the types of resources they need, including emotional, financial, social, and other resources.
  • The website also has links to other resources online that are relevant to faculty and staff.
  • The Employment and Human Resources office also has information on other types of support and policies pertaining to USM employees’ wellbeing.