Recognize Students in Distress
LMU faculty and staff members are on the frontline of student contact and engagement. They often are the first to see and/ or hear indicators of student distress.
To assist students in maintaining their mental health and maximizing their academic needs, it is important to identify the signs students are exhibiting before a situation escalates to a crisis. The presence of one of the following indicators may not necessarily mean that a student is experiencing distress, but a combination can show a student is in crisis. When in doubt of when a student is in need of assistance, consult with the Student Affairs Dean’s Office (SADO) or Student Psychological Services (SPS).
Faculty members may have concerns about reporting information about students. The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) does not prohibit the sharing of personal observations and knowledge about a student among campus officials when there is a legitimate concern related to campus safety. Please see the FERPA guidelines on the Registrar’s section of the LMU website.
Indicators and Factors
Respond to Students in Distress
Choosing a response
There are four ways to respond once you have identified a student in distress:
- Speak directly with the student: Speaking directly with the student could be most effective, especially if you have a good rapport with the student. Begin the conversation by expressing your concern about specific behaviors you have observed.
- Contact the Student Affairs Dean’s Office (SADO): This option may be appropriate if you feel uncomfortable approaching the student in regards to their behavior or behaviors observed. You may then contact SADO to refer the student.
- Walk the student to Student Psychological Services (SPS) or the Student Affairs Dean’s Office (SADO) in the event of an emergency. It is recommended that you call SPS at (310) 338-2868 or SADO at (310) 338-3756 to let the office know you are on your way over with the student. Note, the student may ask you to wait until the session with the crisis therapist is complete in SPS. You may want to contact SADO to facilitate a follow up after the SPS appointment, and it is recommended for many cases to assist the student.
- Call the Department of Public Safety (during an emergency and/or after hours to contact SPS): This response is appropriate when a student is in extreme distress and/or life-threatening danger. If a student is in immediate self-harm or harm to others, you should call the Department of Public Safety at x222 from a campus phone or 310-338-2893.
Consult with One or More of These Resources
When you are unsure what path to choose for a student issue, consultation is available for you.
- Department Chair or Dean or Associate Dean of the college
- First-Year Experience (FYE) in the Student Success Office: (310) 338-5252
- Student Affairs Dean’s Office (SADO): (310) 338-3756
- Student Psychological Services (SPS): (310) 338-2862
- Student Healthy Services (SHS): (310) 338-2881
- Disability Support Services (DSS): (310) 338-7535
- The Graduate School/Graduate Office: (310) 338-2721
Meet with the Student
If you decide to meet with the student here is some helpful information for your initial discussion:
You are not here to take on the role of a counselor. You need only listen, care and offer resource referral information to the student. You are in the role of a compassionate faculty or staff member who will assist the student to recognize the right choice of resource(s) within the LMU Community. As you begin, it is recommended that you consider the following:
- Meet with the student privately (choose a time and place where you will not be interrupted).
- Set a positive tone. Express your care and concern. Explain that you are here to care, be honest and sincere.
- Point out the specific signs you have observed. (e.g.: “I’ve noticed lately that you….”)
- Ask, “How are things going for you?” Let the student speak and tell you in his/her own words about “how they feel” and “how things are going.”
- Encourage the student to share as you listen with a thoughtful, active and attentive ear to the student’s responses (e.g.: “Tell me more about that situation” or “Tell me more about how you felt about that or what you think about that…”).
- Affording the student(s) the opportunity to tell her/his story is valuable. Be patient during awkward silences during the conversation and slow parts. Allow for the silences and encourage the student to continue.
- The student is in need of someone who will not be judgmental about what is happening. Ask open-ended questions that deal directly with the issues (e.g.: “What problems has the situation(s) caused you?”) If possible, make a list of questions before you meet to assist you.
- If the student shows signs of safety risk, ask the student directly if suicide is a consideration and if they have a plan. A student who is considering suicide will likely be relieved that you asked. If the student is not contemplating suicide, asking the question will not “place ideas in the students head.” Here is a link to the section on suicide and ideations with vignettes and recommendations for action.
- Restate what you have heard as well as your care and concern for the student (e.g.: “I heard you say that you need to get back on a healthy path and support is needed from your family…” or “I heard you say you need some additional resources from LMU for study support, career guidance, and support for some relationship issues…”).
Help for yourself, colleagues or family members. Dealing with a student in distress may be physically, mentally, and/or emotionally draining. The Employee Assistance Program is available to “debrief” with campus community members to restore a sense of equilibrium.
LMU Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offers services for full-time LMU employees, their dependents, and retirees. EAP counselors provide assessment, referral and brief counseling services that are free and confidential. For information on EAP, call (800) 327-1850.