U-M Counseling and Psychological Services

Students dealing with personal concerns and in distress typically show some outward signs that they are struggling in some way. All of us experience life’s “ups and down,” but ongoing and/or intensified distress may suggest a more serious concern. There are different levels of distress and these can be represented through a continuum. How you go about helping a student will depend on several factors such as: their level of distress, the nature of your relationship, the type of setting you are in, and your comfort level.
If you are worried for a student’s safety, remember that you can offer your support as a caring person until other professionals are able to step in. If a student is potentially feeling suicidal, it is okay and helpful to ask them directly if they are thinking about ending their life. Also consulting with other colleagues or CAPS may be helpful.

The following information includes the levels of distress, what to look out for and suggestions on how faculty/staff can help.

Mild Distress

Students in mild distress may exhibit behaviors that do not disrupt others but may indicate something is wrong and that assistance is needed. Many of these behaviors may also indicate a greater level of distress.

 

Behaviors may include:

  • Serious grade problems or a change from consistently passing grades to unaccountably poor performance.
  • Excessive absences, especially if the student has previously demonstrated consistent attendance.
  • Unusual or markedly changed patterns of interaction, i.e., avoidance of participation, excessive anxiety when called upon, domination of discussions, goes from being actively involved to quiet and withdrawn, or goes from being quiet to more agitated or demanding, etc.)
  • Other characteristics that suggest the student is having trouble managing stress successfully (a depressed, lethargic mood, very rapid speech, swollen, red eyes, marked change in personal dress and hygiene, falling asleep during class, crying)

Moderate Distress

Students in moderate distress may exhibit behaviors that indicate significant emotional distress. It is important to keep in mind that students may be reluctant to, emotionally unable to, or uncertain of how to ask for help.

 

Behaviors include:

  • Repeated requests for accommodations, such as deadline extensions, especially if the student appears uncomfortable or highly emotional while disclosing the circumstances prompting the request.
  • New or repeated behavior which interferes with effective management of the immediate environment.
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional responses that are obviously inappropriate to the situation.
  • Begins to display aggressive or abusive behavior to self or others; exhibits excessive risk-taking.
  • Shows signs of memory loss.
  • Exhibits signs of hyperactivity (unable to sit still, difficulty maintaining focus, gives the impression of going "too fast," appears agitated).
  • Shows signs of depression (no visible emotions or feelings, appears lethargic, weight change, looks exhausted and complains of sleeping concerns, displays feelings of worthlessness or self-hatred, or is apathetic about previous interests).
  • Talks about unusual patterns of eating, not eating, or excessively eating.
  • Shows signs of injury to self, cuts, bruises, or sprains.
  • Experiences deteriorating academic performance (incapacitating test anxiety, sporadic class attendance, or extended absences from class).
  • Begins or increases alcohol or other drug use.

Severe Distress

Students in severe distress exhibit behaviors that signify an obvious crisis and that necessitate emergency care. Examples include:

 

  • Begins to display aggressive or abusive behavior to self or others; exhibits excessive risk-taking.
  • Shows signs of memory loss.
  • Shows loose or incoherent thought patterns, has difficulty focusing thoughts, or displays nonsensical conversation patterns.
  • Exhibits behaviors or emotions that are markedly inappropriate or disruptive to the situation.
  • Displays extreme suspiciousness or irrational fears of persecution; withdraws, does not allow others to be close; believes she/he/they is being watched, followed, etc.
  • Shows signs of depression (no visible emotions or feelings, appears lethargic, weight loss, looks exhausted and complains of sleeping poorly, displays feelings of worthlessness or self-hatred, or is apathetic about previous interests).
  • Shows signs of injury to self, cuts, bruises, or sprains.
  • Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech; unconnected, disjointed, or rambling thoughts).
  • Loss of contact with reality (seeing or hearing things that others cannot see or hear; beliefs or actions greatly at odds with reality or probability).
  • Stalking behaviors.
  • Inappropriate communications (including threatening letters, e-mail messages, harassment).
  • Overtly suicidal thoughts (including referring to suicide as a current option or in a written assignment).
  • Threats to harm others.

Guidelines for talking with a student with any level of distress (mild, moderate, severe)

  • Acknowledge, validate, and respect what is said.
  • Allow the student to speak freely about their current situation.
    • Example: “I noticed you seemed upset in class today, and wanted to check in. You mentioned you’ve been having a hard time. How are you doing?”
  • If the student is overwhelmed, consider suggesting that both you and the student take a few slow, deep breaths together.
  • Talk to the student in private when both of you have time and are not rushed.
  • Try to focus on an aspect of the problem that is manageable.
  • Try to use specific, nonjudgmental terms that reflect your concern for the well being of the student.
    • Example: “I’m sorry to hear that, I want you to know that I am here for you and want to help you get support.”
  • Avoid overpromising or general answers such as:
    • "Everything will be all right."
    • “I totally understand.”
    • “Try not to worry too much, it’s not that big of a deal.”
  • Help the person recall constructive methods used in the past to cope; try to encourage the student toward agreeing to doing something constructive to better their current situation.
  • Trust your insight and reactions.
  • Let others know your concerns. Consult with a colleague, department head, Dean of Students Office professional, or a CAPS staff member.
  • Do not swear secrecy or offer confidentiality to the person.
  • Try to get a sense of the student’s current support system and remind them of those people.
    • Example: “Thank you for sharing this with me. These are really important things to talk about, and I’m wondering who comes to mind if there is anyone you have shared this with or would feel comfortable discussing this with as well?
  • Encourage the student to consider utilizing further sources of support in their life (e.g., a friend, family member, or professional).
    • Example: “Thank you for sharing this with me. There are many resources available on campus. CAPS offers brief therapy and crisis services focused on student mental health and wellbeing. Here is their information.”
  • Respect the student's value system, even if you don't agree.

For providing support to a student in severe distress:

  • Remain calm and know whom to call for help, if necessary.
    • When a student expresses a direct threat to themselves or others, call the Department of Public Safety 734 763-1131.
    • For all other mental health consultations, please call CAPS and ask to speak to the Counselor on Duty.
  • Calls can be made with the student in your presence or within sight, however, if needed you can look for someone to stay with the student while calls to the appropriate resources are made.
  • Remember, ensuring other people's wellbeing is not your responsibility. You can only do as much as you can control, and these situations may feel very difficult.You need only to make the necessary call and request assistance.
  • Find additional information on what to do in an urgent situation HERE .
  • Your professional role impacts your interactions with students and your ability to address their concerns, whether you are a faculty member, lecturer, or GSI. Reflecting on your own experiences and how your background and multiple social identities affect interactions with students can be helpful. Acknowledge your role in student interactions and reflect on how it may impact your relationship with the student and your ability to help.

Student Suggestions On How Facutly Can Support Mental Health

Faculty have an important role when it comes to supporting student mental health on campus. Faculty are often seen as mentors, allies, and guides through a student's academic career and beyond. For these reasons, it can be important for faculty to know UM campus resources and engage in our community of caring with regards to mental health.

CAPS Student Advisory Board created the following list of ways that faculty can support their mental health:

  • One: Include helpful student resources in your syllabus.
    • Add this website from the UM Academic Support Services to your syllabus
    • Add this recommended syllabus statement from Central Student Government:

      Student Mental Health and Wellbeing The University of Michigan is committed to advancing the mental health and wellbeing of its students, while acknowledging that a variety of issues, such as strained relationships, increased anxiety, alcohol/drug problems, and depression, directly impacts students’ academic performance.  If you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed, depressed, and/or in need of support, services are available.  For help, contact Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at (734) 764-8312 and https://caps.umich.edu/ during and after hours, on weekends and holidays or through its counselors physically located in schools on both North and Central Campus. You may also consult University Health Service (UHS) at (734) 764-8320 and https://www.uhs.umich.edu/mentalhealthsvcs, or for alcohol or drug concerns, see www.uhs.umich.edu/aodresources.  For a more comprehensive listing of the broad range of mental health services available on campus, please visit: http://umich.edu/~mhealth/.

      or

      Student Mental Health and Wellbeing The University of Michigan is committed to advancing the mental health and wellbeing of its students. If you or someone you know is feeling overwhelmed, depressed, and/or in need of support, services are available. For help, contact Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at (734) 764-8312 and https://caps.umich.edu/ during and after hours, on weekends and holidays, or through its counselors physically located in schools on both North and Central Campus. You may also consult University Health Service (UHS) at (734) 764-8320 and https://www.uhs.umich.edu/mentalhealthsvcs, or for alcohol or drug concerns, see www.uhs.umich.edu/aodresources. For a listing of other mental health resources available on and off campus, visit: http://umich.edu/~mealth/.

  • Two: Know that many students may have never had to ask for help before coming to college.
    • Invite students to contact you via office hours, email and phone.
    • In 2015-16, nearly 50% of students who came into CAPS had never received counseling in the past.
  • Three: Some students may be getting used to the U.S. educational system.
    • Be open-minded, non-judgmental and flexible to different communicative, cultural and coping styles.
    • Familiarize yourself with all the great resources at the International Center.
  • Four: Be aware of college student development and stages.
    • Example: 1st years are adjusting to being on their own for the first time.
    • Example: Graduate students are juggling multiple roles both personally and professionally.
  • Five: Midterms and finals can be stressful.
    • Hold regular office hours, exam preps and be patient with students. This can help decrease their stress.
  • Six: Learn about CAPS as a resource.
    • Our diverse staff specializes in college student mental health. We provide confidential, solution-focused, individual, couples and group therapy to UM students at no charge.
    • Check out how students access CAPS counseling services HERE.
  • Seven: Encourage students to use MiTalk.
    • MiTalk is a self-help section of our website that provides skill-building tools on managing stress and academic life.
  • Eight: Learn how to help a student in distress through QPR.
    • QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) is a university-based suicide prevention training offered by CAPS staff. Request a QPR training for your department HERE.
  • Nine: Consult with a CAPS counselor.
  • Ten: Join the "Community of Caring."
    • When needed, collaborate with the Dean of Students office, your dean, colleagues or student life professionals in your department.

Faculty and Staff Guide for "Common Scenarios"

Students at the University of Michigan may experience a wide range of mental health issues during the course of their academic experience. As faculty members, teaching assistants, or staff members in academic departments, you may encounter students who need mental health support. Your role can be a positive and crucial one in identifying students who are in distress and assisting them to find the resources available to help.

Often, you as a staff or faculty person will be one of the first persons to find out that a student is having personal problems that are interfering with their academic success or daily lives. The student may come to you for academic advising, or visit during office hours, send you an email, etc. and in this process share personal concerns with you.

Our goal is to offer commons scenarios that frequently happen and to suggest ways to address these situations - by so doing, we are ultimately providing a web of support by helping students get the mental health support they need by taking advantage of the many resources at UM.

The University's commitment to diversity and inclusiveness extends to students who have mental health concerns. The University is committed to the academic success, personal development and general health of all students. Some students with mental health issues may request reasonable accommodations through the Services for Students with Disabilities Office. Compliance with these requests is required by federal law, state law and University Policy.

  • I am not sure what to say to a student in distress.
    • Do not swear secrecy or offer confidentiality to the student.
    • Try to focus on an aspect of the problem that is manageable.
    • Avoid easy answers such as, "Everything will be all right."
    • Be accepting and respectful to what is said.
    • Help the person recall constructive methods used in the past to cope; get the person to agree to do something constructive to change things.
    • Trust your insight and reactions. Let others know your concerns.
    • Attempt to address the person's needs and seek appropriate resources.
    • Encourage the person to seek help.
    • Respect the student's value systems, even if you don't agree.
  • My student hasn't been to class in 2 weeks and hasn't given any explanation. What should I do?
    • If the student is willing to, schedule a meeting.
    • Let this meeting be a conversation to get the student talking.
    • Carefully ask about the student's attendance to your class.
    • If the students wants to speak with someone, but wants to keep the situation confidential, refer them a CAPS.
  • If I have a student in need of mental health support after 5pm. What do I do? Where should I go?
    • There are many "After Hours" options available. HERE is one option.
  • My student has written something in a paper that I am concerned about. What should I do?
  • What should I do if a student declines help or doesn't want to seek counseling?
    • Identify what the hesitation is about.
    • Dispute the myth that only "weak or crazy" people go for counseling or use others for help.
    • Remind them that campus counseling resources are free and confidential services.
    • Ask why the student does not want to seek help and then address the reasons, myths, and misperceptions with facts and understanding.
    • If your student still does not want help, be assured that you have done your best to give support and provide help.
    • If you are concerned that your student may harm themselves or others:
      - If there is immediate danger- call DPS (734) 763-1131 or 911
      - If not, consult CAPS (734) 764-8312
  • I am worried about a student's safety.
    • Voice your concerns about their safety and describe the behavior or situation that is worrisome to you.
    • If you are concerned the student may be feeling hopeless and thinking about ending their life, ask if she/he is contemplating suicide. Asking about suicide doesn't lead the student to think/do more about it. It is important to remember that talking about suicide is a warning sign that needs to be followed up. Seek help from one of the resources on campus.
    • Offer yourself as a caring person until professional assistance has been obtained.
    • After the student leaves your office, make some notes documenting your interactions.
    • Consult with others in your department on your experience.
    • Consult with Department of Public Safety
      (734) 763-1131 or 911.
  • My student has said they can't complete my class due to mental health issues, what do I do?
    • Consulting within your department administration, with the Dean of Students Office , and/or with a mental health professional, can usually provide the next steps to take.
  • Under what circumstances should I call DPS?
  • Can I share my concerns about a student with someone else in my department?
    • Letting someone else know within your department may be a good idea. Someone else may give you good advice on how to approach the situation and your student.
      When in doubt, consult.
  • Are there unique resources for graduate students in need of mental health support? What resources are available to them?
  • What can I do to support mental health on a regular basis?
    • - Promote Mental Health Awareness in your classroom
      - Around midterms or finals, remind students of the resources that are available to them (CAPS, etc.)
      - Encourage students to inform their friends or others about available mental health support resources
      - Put a sentence or two in your syllabus to reflect your approach to supporting students' mental health. Include contact information for the resources available to students.
      In addtion, please include a statement in writing on all syllabus materials consistent with the language adopted by SACUA. We recommend the following statement:
      "If you think you need an accommodation for a disability, please let me know at your earliest convenience. Some aspects of this course, the assignments, the in-class activities, and the way I teach may be modified to facilitate your participation and progress. As soon as you make me aware of your needs, we can work with the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities to help us determine appropriate accommodations. I will treat any information you provide as private and confidential."
      Along with the statement on syllabus materials, also make the following in-class statement: "Any student who believes that he/she has a disability and may need an accommodation for this course, please make an appointment to see me during my office hours."
      This approach indicates the willingness of the faculty member to provide assistance and also preserves students' privacy.
  • Are there any resources for Faculty and Staff who may need mental health care?
    • The Faculty and Staff Counseling and Consultation Office (FASCCO) provides support and assistance to University staff and faculty (including graduate students who are employees) in resolving personal or work related concerns. FASCCO seeks to enhance the emotional health, well-being and job-performance of members of the university community by providing confidential and professional counseling, coaching, training and consultation services to staff, faculty, retirees, benefit-eligible dependents and departments.

CAPS as a resource

At Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), we have a diverse staff of mental health professionals providing confidential, solution-focused individual, couples and group therapy to currently enrolled U of M students at no charge. CAPS’s main focus is providing college student mental health services. CAPS regularly provides immediate advice to concerned faculty and staff through the Counselor on Duty service

Find out how to make a referral HERE

Find more information on Consultation and Crisis Respone HERE.