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               Behavioral Concerns Team (BCT)

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Responding to Students in Distress: Guidelines for Faculty and Staff

As NEIU is a non-residential university, faculty and staff play an especially important role in being aware of and responsive to students who may be struggling. You have and important relationship with each of your students: this relationship can be a powerful vehicle that you can use to encourage someone to seek help. At the same time, without mental health training, many may feel unprepared to address signs of distress or problematic behavior in their students. The following is intended to provide helpful guidelines for dealing with such situations. In addition, the Behavioral Concerns Team welcomes your questions on any issues regarding behavior.

Students in Distress
All of us experience a "bad day" now and then, and usually it is only a short time to recovering a more positive attitude and the ability to cope with whatever situation has presented itself. Sometimes, however, the bad day persists and we begin to see signs of ongoing distress and poor coping. These signs may include:
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  • Drop in grades or performance, excessive procrastination
  • Disappearance from class or regular activities
  • Excessive weight gain or loss
  • Withdrawal and isolative behavior
  • Focus on suicide or harmful behaviors
  • Neglect of appearance or hygiene
  • Strange or bizarrely inappropriate behavior
  • Inappropriate dependency
  • Impaired speech or disjointed thoughts
  • Unstable mood, including depression, irritability, anxiety, tearfulness
These behaviors may be related to ongoing depression or anxiety and may be due to problems in relationships, past trauma, addictions, eating disorders, grief and loss etc.

What to Do
When you observe behavior that points to ongoing distress, addressing it with the student can go a long way toward supporting and encouraging the person to get the help they need. Don't assume that someone else in the student's life will intervene. If you like, you may contact the Counseling Office or the BCT about your concerns before you meet with your student.

Communicate your concerns:
  • If appropriate, talking with your student in private about what is upsetting to them may make help them be comfortable and more open with you.
  • Be direct about your concerns, focusing on the student's behavior and your concerns for his or her welfare.
  • Listen to their concerns while acknowledging the limits on your ability to help. You must evaluate your own comfort level as well. Some faculty members might feel very comfortable talking with a student about the loss of a loved one or some other distressing situation. Others panic at the sight of tears and don't know what to do to be helpful. Know your own boundaries and refer to the Counseling Office when necessary.
  • Let your student know that additional help is available through NEIU's Counseling Office.
Refer to the Counseling Office
When one of your students shares difficulties that are beyond your ability to help, or when a student's behavior suggests serious emotional problems, it may be best to refer the student to the Counseling Office.

Let your student know that you are concerned about his or her welfare but that the problem is beyond your field of expertise. Indicate that counseling may help him or her deal with the situation more effectively. Finally, suggest an initial meeting with a counselor to see if it may be useful. You can't force a student to seek help, but your expression of concern can be a powerful influence on your student's choice.

Sometimes simply giving someone a name to call is sufficient; at other times, actually making a call to the Counseling Office while you are meeting with a student is effective. If you aren't sure that the student will follow through, you may want to call and arrange a meeting with a counselor, walking the student down to meet with the counselor for the first time. Your goal is to ensure that the student and the counselor make contact. Counselors will take it from there.

You may walk your student down to the Counseling Office (D-024) at any time during regular business hours, or call (x4650) while your student is with you to encourage them to make an appointment.
Refer to the BCT
You may feel that talking with and encouraging a distressed student provides the boost that student needs. Or you may find that a student is grateful to know about services in the Counseling Office, follows through on your referral and you observe a positive change in him or her.

On the other hand, you may encounter situations that continue to concern you, where students are not responsive to your concern, the behavior persists or escalates, and your own internal "red flags" are raised. In any of these situations, contact the BCT. The BCT is here to assist you in problematic situations or in situations where you are uncertain.

If this is an emergency, contact University Police (773) 442-5511.