How to Refer a Distressed Student

University students often encounter a great deal of stress during the course of their academic experience. While most students cope successfully with the challenges that these years bring, an increasing number of students find that the various pressures of life are unmanageable or unbearable. As a staff or faculty member, you often encounter these distressed students who have not sought any psychological intervention.

Thus, your role is a crucial one in identifying and referring students who are in distress. The following guidelines may be useful.

Some signs and symptoms of a student in distress:

  • excessive procrastination and very poorly prepared work, especially if this is inconsistent with previous work
  • infrequent class attendance with little or no work completed
  • dependency, e.g., the student who hangs around you, or makes excessive appointments to see you or places inappropriate demands upon your time
  • listlessness, lack of energy or frequently falling asleep
  • marked changes in personal hygiene
  • impaired speech or garbled, disjointed thoughts
  • homicidal threats
  • behavior which regularly interferes with the decorum or effective management of your class or office
  • overtly suicidal comments or references
  • high levels of irritability, including unruly, aggressive, violent or abrasive behavior
  • extreme difficulty in making decisions
  • dramatic weight loss or gain
  • bizarre or strange behavior which is obviously inappropriate to the situation, e.g., talking to “invisible people”
  • normal emotions that are displayed to an extreme degree or for a prolonged period of time, e.g., fearfulness, tearfulness, nervousness
  • abuse of drugs and/or alcohol

Guidelines for interaction:

  • talk to the student in private
  • listen carefully
  • show/express concern and interest
  • repeat back the essence of what the student has said
  • avoid criticizing or sounding judgmental
  • consider the Counseling and Psychological Services as a resource and discuss a referral with the student
  • if the student resists help and you are worried, call Counseling and Psychological Services to discuss your concerns
  • involve yourself only as far as you want to go; extending yourself can be a gratifying experience

How to make a referral to Counseling and Psychological Services

  • Suggest that the student call or come in to make an appointment. Give the phone number and location.
  • If you wish to assist the student directly, call Counseling and Psychological Services (973-443-8504) while the student is in your office and let the student make the appointment. Give them paper and pen to write down the appointment information (time, date, counselor, location, etc.)
  • If the situation appears to be an emergency, make sure to let the receptionist or counselor know this.
  • Sometimes it is useful or necessary for you to walk the student over to Counseling and Psychological Services (Wellness Center at Danforth Road entrance to the campus).
  • If you are concerned about a student but are uncertain about the appropriateness of a referral, feel free to call Counseling and Psychological Services for a consultation. This step can be crucial in preventing a crisis.