Responding to Students in Emotional Distress
How to help a student (in a non-emergency situation)
What you should do
- DO remain calm.
- DO tell the student that you’re concerned and want to help.
- DO comment directly on what you have observed. (“I’m concerned because you’ve missed several classes and today you seemed distracted. I also noticed you fell asleep in class the other day. How have you been feeling lately?”)
- DO listen carefully to the student’s feelings and concerns, without judging, and take them seriously. (“It seems that the hardship you have experienced with your family is now compounded by the problems with your girlfriend.”)
- DO respect cultural differences. Ask about students’ cultures and what it means to them, and listen for their cultural perspectives. Think about how your style of communication might be interpreted by students from other cultures. Consider how a history of racism, oppression or stereotyping could affect the students’ perception of Fordham and your attempts to help them. Validate and acknowledge the students’ experience—this need for understanding, while important for everyone, is often accentuated in marginalized students. Explore the wisdom of seeking help within the students’ more familiar cultural framework. For example, ask them if it might help to talk with elders, family members or religious leaders. Campus Ministry and the Office of Multicultural Affairs are great resources on campus.
- DO suggest counseling or provide other helpful resources. Students may call Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) to schedule an appointment, or you can walk them over to CPS or the Office of the Dean of Students. If a student is not ready to make an appointment on the spot, you may ask a CPS staff member for the name of a psychologist whom the student may call; this way the student has a personal point of contact. You may also explore the CPS website with the student (www.fordham.edu/cps) to learn about CPS services and to find an array of other mental health resources. Regardless, you are encouraged to contact help using the procedure in the brochure to best address the unique needs of the student. Depending on the circumstance, a dean will reach out to the student, if they deem it appropriate.
- DO call the class dean who can offer guidance and information about resources available.
- DO follow-up to show that you care and make sure students have the resources they may need. Faculty can access students’ contact information through the class list available on the Faculty Dashboard of my.fordham.edu. If a faculty member has difficulty reaching a student, they may contact the dean of students at (718) 817-4755 at RH or (212) 636-6250 at LC or Westchester.
What you should not do
- DO NOT agree to be sworn to secrecy. NEVER agree to keep suicidal or violent thoughts in confidence; it is important that the student meet with a counseling professional to get the support they need.
- DO NOT ask students to “pick themselves up by their bootstraps” or ignore the problem.
- DO NOT ignore the situation.
- DO NOT get frustrated when your suggestions are resisted. At this point, it may be helpful for you to consult with a counselor at CPS or the dean of students about the student’s situation.
- DO NOT judge students based on your own cultural norms. For example, a lack of eye contact in some cultures shows respect while in others may communicate deceitfulness; or loud and expressive language in some cultures may invite passionate and respectful dialogue while in other cultures it may be viewed as hostile or disrespectful. Attitudes towards authority figures and academic work are often shaped by students’ cultural framework.
Difficult scenarios: Be prepared that the student may initially reject help. It may take the student time to digest what you said or to acknowledge the problem. If you do not believe that the student is in crisis, then don’t force the issue. Your concern in itself can be reassuring, and the student may privately pursue the counseling resources that you provide. You may also suggest talking again after the student has had time to think it over.
If you think the student’s issues could be serious, or you’re not sure whether to be concerned, call a counselor or the dean of students to discuss the situation. You may tell the student that you will make this call to help them get the support that they need. While you may consult with a counselor or dean without letting the student know, it can help to be up front with the student.
If emotions escalate, acknowledge the intensity of the situation. (“I can see you’re really upset about the grade you received.”)
If the student displays bizarre or illogical thought patterns or behaviors, remain calm and let the student know that you can see they need help. (“I know these things must be overwhelming for you. I’m concerned about you and I’d like to help.”)
If you think that a student may be suicidal, ask. (“Since it’s been so painful lately, I’m wondering if you have considered harming yourself.” Or, “When you say that you can’t bear to go on, were you suggesting that you might kill yourself?”)
If a student exhibits suicidal signs, it is imperative to contact the dean of students (during business hours) or the public safety supervisor (after hours or on weekends) and clearly state that you need to report a MENTAL HEALTH EMERGEN CY. The dean of students or a member of the staff will respond directly to you. You may also walk the student to the offices listed above, in the “What to do in an Emergency” section. Staff in these offices are trained to find a professional who will assist immediately. Faculty members should follow these procedures even if the student’s behaviors are ambiguous.
Just a phone call away
In a non-emergency, please call or walk students to one of the offices below:
Counseling and Psychological Services
Monday to Thursday, 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Rose Hill - 718-817-3725; O'Hare Hall - Lower Level
Lincoln Center - 212-636-6225; 140 West 62nd Street, Room G-02
Westchester - 718-817-3725
Dean of Students
Rose Hill and Calder Center - 718-817-4755
Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Lincoln Center and Weschester - 212-636-6250
Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.