Faculty Staff Guide

Responding to Students in Distress

Your willingness to respond to students in distress will be influenced by your personal style and your philosophy about the limits of a professor’s or staff member’s responsibility for helping students grow emotionally as well as intellectually. A student’s openness to such assistance, as well as the location of the contact, and the depth of your relationship will impact the types of interactions you can have with a student. This information has been prepared to assist faculty and staff in the early identification and referral of students in distress. Faculty is often on the front lines for students in distress. Students will often approach a faculty member about their problems before talking to a friend or family member.

Penn State University has generously allowed Student Counseling & Psychological Services (SCPS) to post this link. The “Worrisome Student Behaviors: Minimizing Risks” project is a Web-based tool that includes a series of video vignettes illustrating the most common situations faculty and staff face, along with information and resources that are available to help students, and intervention guidelines. While the resources listed are Penn State University specific (Auburn has similar campus resources), the training is applicable to any staff and faculty.

How to Help a Distressed Student

Some problems common to college students are:

  • Family problems
  • Problems with a romantic partner or spouse
  • Academic difficulties
  • Alcohol or drug problems
  • Stress
  • Depression

How to Approach a Student in Distress

  • Choose a private place to talk with the student.
  • Ask the student if something is wrong, and if the student would like to talk about it.
  • If you have noticed changes in the student, it can be helpful to relate this to the student. Say something like, “I’ve noticed that you haven’t been attending class regularly lately. I’m wondering if anything is going on that I might be able to help with.”
  • Communicate care and concern for your students, rather than chastising them for poor performance.
  • Mention the availability of Student Counseling & Psychological Services. Some faculty keep a few copies of our brochure at hand.