Signs and Symptoms of a Student in Distress That Require Immediate Attention
- Threats to harm another person or property
High levels of irritability, including unruly, aggressive, violent or abrasive behavior
- Impaired speech or garbled, disjointed thoughts
- Bizarre or strange behavior that is obviously inappropriate to the situation; e.g., talking to "invisible" people
- Overtly suicidal comments; e.g., referring to suicide as a current option
Guidelines for Interacting with Students Who Need Immediate Attention
The Student Who Poses a Threat to Others or Property, or Who Exhibits High Levels of Irritability, Including Unruly, Aggressive Behavior:
Aggressive or violent behavior in students is rare but may occur when students are extremely frustrated and unable to manage their emotions more appropriately or are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. While the reasons for potentially violent behavior are often emotional, the first priority is to ensure everyone's safety.
What To Do:
- Remain calm.
- Know your limits and take action to protect yourself and others.
- Explain clearly what behavior is acceptable and set limits. (ex. “It’s difficult to talk with you when you are yelling. Please lower your voice.”)
- Call Campus Security at x5000 or (626) 395-5000 immediately to get help.
What To Avoid:
- Engaging in a power struggle.
- Touching the student.
- Threatening, daring, taunting, or physically pushing the student.
The Student Who is Out of Contact with Reality or Exhibits Bizarre Behavior:
If a student exhibits bizarre behavior (e.g. talking to invisible people, acting very agitated and can't be calmed down), has garbled speech, or seems impaired by disjointed thoughts or ideas that don't make sense, s/he will need immediate help.
What to Do:
- Have a plan in place before you speak with the student alone that will allow you to obtain assistance from others should you need it; e.g. let another staff person know where you are.
- If the student does not appear to be a threat, shepherd the student away from distractions and speak with him/her in private.
- Talk with the student in a calm voice.
- Listen with warmth, concern, and a desire to understand his/her point of view.
- Respond with understanding and reason.
- Be firm and clear in your communication.
- Share your concern and belief that the student needs help.
- Tell the student that you would like to ask someone to help you help them and call the Counseling Center at x8331 or (626) 395-8331.
- If at any time the student becomes threatening call Campus Security at x5000 or (626) 395-5000.
What to Avoid:
- Arguing or challenging the irrationality of the student's thinking.
- Colluding with his/her fantasy, delusion, or hallucination.
- Dominating, pressuring, or making demands of the student.
The Suicidal Student:
If a student expresses thoughts or intentions of harming her/himself, you should take these statements seriously. While it is not uncommon for someone to think of suicide at some point in his/her life, it does indicate that the person needs immediate help. At times, a person helping someone who is thinking of suicide can feel manipulated by the threat of suicide. It is not possible to know with certainty if the person's thoughts of suicide are a manipulation, so take any mention of suicide seriously and provide immediate help by taking the following steps.
What to Do:
- Talk empathically with the student. Take a non-judgmental approach.
- Listen to what the student has to say and do not shy away from discussing suicide. You will not plant the idea in his/her mind by talking about suicide or asking about the possibility of suicide.
- Recommend s/he seek help from the Counseling Center right away.
- If the student agrees to seek help, suggest s/he call the Counseling Center at x8331 or (626) 395-8331 from your office.
- Once those arrangements are made, make plans to speak with the student after s/he has seen someone at the Counseling Center to ensure that s/he has sought help.
- It is also helpful to call the Counseling Center yourself to speak with someone about the situation to see if there is more you should do.
- If the student is reluctant, offer to call the Counseling Center to arrange for him/her to be seen immediately.
- If the student refuses, insist that the issue must be addressed, and work out a plan for getting help. This could involve helping the student to meet with someone from the Graduate or Undergraduate Deans’ offices, or a member of the Residential Life Staff.
- If the student refuses to speak with anyone, gently but firmly let the student know that you would like to help them, and in order to do so you need to engage other resources. The goal is to help the student feel like they have some choice in the matter (i.e. who to speak with) but that they will speak with someone who can get them the assistance they need.
- If the student agrees to see someone other than a psychologist at the Counseling Center, call the Counseling Center to discuss what has occurred and what should happen next.
What to Avoid:
- Minimizing the level of your concern.
- Not taking action.
- Threatening, daring, taunting, or physically engaging the student.