Faculty & Staff Resources

How to Help a Student Who May be Suicidal
This is designed to help faculty, staff, and students prevent suicide by teaching you to:
1.  Identify people at risk for suicide.
2.  Recognize the risk factor, protective factors, and warning signs of suicide.
3.  Respond to and get help for people at rick. 

The following information explains the role we have in regard to potential emotionally distressed students.

Your Role
As a faculty or staff member, you are in an excellent position to recognize behavioral changes that characterize the emotionally troubled student. A student's behavior, especially if it is inconsistent with your previous observations, could well constitute a “cry for help.” Your ability to recognize the signs of emotional distress and the courage to acknowledge your concerns to the student are often noted by students as the most significant factor in their successful problem resolution. Faculty referrals are the most commonly noted source of referrals for students coming to the Rockhurst Counseling Center.

Consulting with the Counseling Center Staff
If you are unsure how to work with a specific student, we encourage you to consult with one of the professional staff in the counseling center. A brief consultation may help to sort out the relevant issues and explore alternative approaches. Conveying your concern to the student and your willingness to help (including referral) is probably the most important thing you can do.

Early intervention is preferable to crisis intervention. Encourage students to seek help in confronting, coping with and resolving personal problems before they develop into major obstacles to their success.

Making a Referral
If you feel that professional counseling might be beneficial, refer the student to the Counseling Center. Be direct in letting the student know that you believe a Counselor may be of help in this situation. Inform the student that the services are strictly confidential and free of charge. Don't force the issue if the student takes a defensive posture - simply restate your concerns and recommendations. An independent decision by the student to seek help is best. If the student is unsure whether they really need professional assistance, encourage them to schedule a single session consultation. This provides the student an opportunity to meet the counselor and discuss how counseling might be beneficial. Oftentimes, once the student has initiated the consultation, they are eager to talk.

Facilitating a Referral
There are several ways you can facilitate a referral:

  • You can give the student our phone number (x4275) and encourage them to schedule an appointment. If there are circumstances that you would like us to know, please call and talk with one of the counselors. 
  • If you think it is important for the student to be seen in the Counseling Center, but are unsure if the student will follow through, you can call to make an appointment with the student in your office. After explaining that you have a student who would like to set an appointment, simply give the phone to the student and we will find an available time. 
  • If the student's situation is life threatening (to self or others), it is critical that the student or faculty member inform the receptionist and /or counselor. Our staff are available on a “same day” basis to see a student if the situation is life threatening. If the situation seems urgent or there is a suicide risk, it may be important for you to accompany the student to our office. If at any point you feel unsafe or believe you need additional assistance, call Campus Security at x4911.

Cross Cultural Communication
Communicating across differences can be a key factor in a staff or faculty member's ability to teach, support, and guide students. Rockhurst's heritage in the Jesuit tradition values a richly diverse community.

Do

  • Respect cultural differences—whenever possible, ask and listen for the student's cultural framework and perspective, and take time to learn more about specific cultures.
  • Be thoughtful about how your communication style might be interpreted by a student from another culture.
  • Consider how a history of racism, oppression, discrimination and stereotyping could affect how students perceives Rockhurst and your attempts to help them.
  • Validate and acknowledge the student's plight and pa in —this need, while important for all students, is often accentuated in students who see themselves as culturally different.
  • Offer to help in specific ways—consider a direct and personal intervention in the case of system difficulties. For instance, make a phone call to help a student connect with another department or faculty member. Consider going with a student to introduce them to another department or resource on campus.

Don't

  • Automatically judge a student and their problems based on your own cultural norms—for example, a lack of eye contact in some cultures shows respect while in others it may communicate avoiding the truth. Also, forceful, loud, and expressive language in some cultures is intended to invite a strong and respectful dialogue; in others it can be viewed as hostile or disrespectful.
  • Make assumptions based on a student's cultural background—i.e., all Catholic students are alike.

The Verbally Aggressive Student
Students usually become verbally aggressive or abusive in frustrating situations that they see as being beyond their control. Anger and frustration become displaced from those situations to you. These students often feel they will be rejected and consequently reject you first. They often realize the drama and intimidation behind their anger and are aware of their impact.

It is most often helpful to:

  • Acknowledge their anger and frustration, e.g., “I hear how angry you are.” Rephrase what they are saying and identify their emotion, e.g., “I can see how upset you are because you feel your rights are being violated and nobody will listen.”
  • Allow them to vent, get their feelings out, and tell you what is upsetting them. This is not license for them to verbally abuse you, but rather an opportunity to more clearly communicate once the emotional intensity has subsided.
  • Communicate that you are not willing to accept their verbally abusive behavior, e.g., “When you yell and scream at me that way, I find it difficult (impossible) to listen.”
  • Reduce stimulation; invite the person to a quiet place or your office if you are comfortable. Consider keeping the door open or inviting another faculty or staff member to join you.
  • Help the person problem solve and deal with the real issues when (if) they become calmer.

It is not helpful to:

  • Get into an argument or shouting match.
  • Become hostile or punitive yourself, e.g. “You can't talk to me that way.”
  • Press for explanation or reason for their behavior— “Now I'd like you to tell me exactly why you are so obnoxious.”
  • Hesitate to call Campus Security if the situation escalates.

The Substance Abusing Student
We are all aware of the toll that abuse of alcohol and other drugs can take on individuals, families, friends, and colleagues. In a recent survey of college presidents, alcohol abuse was identified as the campus life issue of greatest concern. The costs are staggering-- in terms of academic failure, vandalism, sexual assault, and other negative consequences.

Do

  • Be on the alert for signs of drug abuse.
  • Share your honest concern for the person.
  • Encourage him/her to seek help.
  • Get necessary help in instances of intoxication.

Don't

  • Ignore the problem.
  • Chastise or lecture.
  • Encourage the behavior as just normal college behavior.
  • Accommodate for the behavior. Experiencing negative consequences for one's choices is a powerful tool in helping to bring about change.

The Suicidal Student
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among college students. Any one of us can become suicidal if life hits us hard enough! The suicidal person is usually intensely ambivalent about killing himself/herself and typically responds to help. Suicidal states are definitely time limited and most who commit suicide are neither crazy nor psychotic.

Do

  • Take it seriously—75 percent of all people who commit suicide give some warning signs of there intentions to a friend, family member, or trusted professional.
  • Be willing to listen—even if professional help is needed, a student will be more willing to seek help if you have listened to him or her.
  • Voice your concern—take the initiative to ask what is troubling the student.
  • Get professional help immediately — If you determine that the student is/may be suicidal, bring the student to the Counseling Center or call us and we will come to your office.
  • High risk indicators include feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and futility; a severe loss or threat of loss, a detailed suicidal plan, a history of pervious attempts, a history of alcohol or drug abuse, and feelings of alienation and isolation.

Don't

  • Assume the situation will take care of itself.
  • Be sworn to secrecy. The primary objective is to get the student the help they need, e.g., I'm glad you feel comfortable sharing this with me, but we really need to involve somebody who can best help you.”
  • Stress the shock and embarrassment that the suicide would be to the person's family, this may exactly what he/she hopes to accomplish.
  • Argue or debate moral issues regarding suicide

A Brief Check List (PDF)

It is most helpful to:

  • Be on the alert for signs of drug abuse (Impairment )
  • Share your honest concern for the person
  • Encourage him/her to seek help
  • Get necessary help in instances of intoxication

The Student in Poor Contact with Reality
Depression, and the variety of ways in which it manifests itself, is part of a natural emotional and physical response to life's ups and downs. With the busy and demanding life of a college student, it is safe to assume that most students will experience periods of reactive (or situational) depression in their college careers. Major depression, however, is a “whole-body” concern, involving your body, mood, thoughts, and behavior. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and the way you think about things. Major depression is not a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be wished or willed away. People with depression cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. It will interfere with a student's ability to function academically. A common symptom of depression is cognitive impairment which includes difficulty concentrating, focusing, sustaining attention, remembering, and making decisions.

Do

  • Let the student know you're aware he/she is feeling down and you would like to help.
  • Tell the student of your concern.
  • Reach out more than halfway and encourage the student to express how she/he is feeling. Depressed students are often initially reluctant to talk, yet others' attention helps the student feel more worthwhile.
  • Encourage the student to use available resources including the Counseling Center and Health Center.

Don't

  • Minimize the student's feelings (e.g. everything will be better tomorrow).
  • Bombard the student with “fix it” solutions or advice.
  • Ignore statements about suicide or “ending it all.”

The Depressed Student
Depression, and the variety of ways in which it manifests itself, is part of a natural emotional and physical response to life’s ups and
downs. With the busy and demanding life of a college student, it is safe to assume that most students will experience periods of reactive (or situational) depression in their college careers. Major depression, however, is a “whole-body” concern, involving your body, mood, thoughts, and behavior. It affects the way you eat and sleep, the way you feel about yourself, and the way you think about things. Major depression is not a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be wished or willed away. People with depression cannot merely “pull themselves together” and get better. It will interfere with a student’s ability to function academically. A common symptom of depression is cognitive impairment which includes difficulty concentrating, focusing, sustaining attention, remembering, and making decisions.

Do

  • Let the student know you’re aware he/she is feeling down and you would like to help.
  • Tell the student of your concern.
  • Reach out more than halfway and encourage the student to express how she/he is feeling. Depressed students are often initially reluctant to talk, yet others’ attention helps the student feel more worthwhile.
  • Encourage the student to use available resources including the Counseling Center and Health Center.

Don’t

  • Minimize the student’s feelings (e.g. everything will be better tomorrow).
  • Bombard the student with “fix it” solutions or advice.
  • Ignore statements about suicide or “ending it all.”

The Anxious Student or Stressed Student
Anxiety is a normal response to a perceived danger or threat to one’s well-being or self-esteem. For some students, the cause of their anxiety will be clear, but for others it may be difficult to determine. Anxiety is very often a result of the intense academic pressure on students, or a fear of inadequacy regarding some academic challenge. Personal relationships may also be at the root of the concern. Regardless of the cause, one or more of the following symptoms may be experienced: rapid heart beat, difficulty concentrating, chest pain or discomfort, always being “on edge,” dizziness, having difficulty making decisions, sleeping problems, trembling or shaking, being too fearful to take action, and excessive worrying. In rare cases, a student may experience a panic attack in which physical symptoms occur spontaneously and intensely in such a way that the student may fear she/he is dying. Keep in mind this is their perception and know that these physical symptoms will not actually result in death. The following guidelines are appropriate in most cases:

Do

  • Listen and let them express their feeling and thoughts—sincere listening alone often relieves a great deal of 
  • pressure.
  • Remain calm and speak more slowly.
  • If their anxiety stems from the demands of your class, program, or services, provide clear and concrete information regarding how they can meet the expectations.
  • Encourage the student to use available resources 
  • including the Counseling Center and Health Center.

Don’t

  • Minimize the severity of anxiety symptoms.
  • Overwhelm them with information or ideas to “fix” their condition.
  • Become anxious or overwhelmed yourself.
  • Become frustrated when your suggestions are resisted.

Signs of Distress
-Inability to Concentrate
-Confusion
-Persistent worrying
-Social Isolation
-Increased Irritability
-Bizarre Behavior
-Missed Class/assignments
-Procrastination
-Dangerous Behavior
-Restlesness
-Disheveled Appearance
-Mood Swings
-Indecisiveness
-Depression
-Anxiety

Urgent concerns and immediate intervention
-Suicidal thoughts or plans
-Fear of losing control and possibly harming oneself or others
-Sexual assault
-Current abuse
-When a student's thoughts and/or behaviors are not grounded in reality (delusional or hallucinating). For more help in this area see the section on "Helping a Student in Poor Contact With Reality.”