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Identifying At-Risk Students
 
At one time or another, everyone feels depressed or upset.  However, there are three levels of student distress which, when present over a period of time, suggest that the problems are more than the ‘normal’ reactions to life stressors.

Level 1 - Distress

Although not disruptive to others in classroom or elsewhere, these behaviors in students may indicate that something is wrong and that help may be needed:

o    Serious grade problems.

o    Unaccountable change from good to poor performance.

o    Change from frequent attendance to excessive absences.

o    Change in pattern of interaction.

o    Marked change in mood, motor activity or speech.

o    Marked change in physical appearance.

Level 2 - Disturbance

These behaviors in students may indicate significant emotional distress or a reluctance or inability to acknowledge a need for personal help:

o    Repeated request for special consideration.

o    New or regularly occurring behavior which pushes the limits and may interfere with class management or be disruptive to others.

o    Unusual or exaggerated emotional response.

Level 3 - Dysregulation

In many cases, these behaviors may show that the student is in crisis and needs emergency care:

o    Highly disruptive behavior (hostility, aggression, etc.).

o    Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech, disjointed thoughts).

o    Loss of contact with reality (seeing/hearing things that are not there, beliefs or actions at odds with reality).

o    Overt suicidal thoughts (suicide is a current option).

o    Homicidal threats.

o    Individuals deficient in skills that regulate emotion, cognition, self, behavior and relationships.

What You Can (and Can’t) Do:

Responses to Level 1/Level 2 Behaviors

o    Calmly talk to the student in private when you both have time.

o    Express your concern in non-judgmental terms.

o    Listen to the student and repeat the gist of what the student is saying.

o    Clarify the costs and benefits of each option for handling the problem from the student’s point of view.

o    Respect the student’s value system.

o    Ask if the student is considering suicide.

o    Make appropriate referrals if necessary.

o    Make sure the student understands what action is necessary.

Responses to Level 3 Behavior

o    Stay calm.

o    Call emergency referrals.

Talking to Students About Your Concerns:

Be cognizant about the limits of your ability to help.  You can help students get the support they need by informing them of our counseling services.  Explain that students visit the counselor for a variety of reasons.  If a student is receptive to seeing a counselor, provide him or her with information regarding the services available on campus in Student Services. Some statements that might help you start a dialog are:

o    “Sounds like you are really struggling with _________.  Many people find it helpful to talk with someone in confidence that is outside of the situation.”

o    “I want to help you get the help you need and deserve.”

o    “Meeting with the MAC counselor is confidential, free and will not go on your academic record.”

o    “These are services your tuition pays for; take advantage of them.”

Do’s and Don’ts for Responding to Suicide Gestures

o    DO show that you take the student’s feelings seriously.

o    DO let the student know that you want to help.

o    DO listen attentively and empathize.

o    DO reassure that, with help and motivation, the student can develop a more positive outlook.

o    DO stay close until help is available or risk has passed.

o    DON’T try to shock or challenge the student.

o    DON’T assume the student is only seeking attention.

o    DON’T become argumentative.

o    DON’T react with shock or disdain at the student’s thoughts and feelings.
  o    DON’T discount the student’s distress