Distressed Student Assistance
1) How to Assist the Depressed Student
College years can be challenging for our students and it is likely that most students experience periods of reactive depression. Pressures from school, work, family and friends can become overwhelming and contribute to feeling hopeless and helpless. In many cases, symptoms of depression can be a part of the natural emotional and physical response to life’s ups and downs. However, when depressive symptoms become so extreme or enduring that they interfere with a student’s ability to function in school, at work, or in social environments an intervention is needed.
Here are some major indicators of depression:
• Tearfulness, emotionality
• Markedly diminished performance
• Dependency (student may make excessive requests for your time)
• Infrequent class attendance
• Lack of energy or motivation
• Increased anxiety, test anxiety, performance anxiety
• Deterioration in personal hygiene
• Significant weight loss or gain
• Alcohol or drug use
Students experiencing depression often respond well to a small amount of attention for a short period of time. Early intervention increases the chances of the student’s rapid return to optimal performance.
What you can do:
• Let the student know that you are aware that he/she is feeling down and you would like to help
• Reach out more than halfway and encourage the student to
discuss how she/he is feeling and/or urge them to drop by the
• Offer options to further investigate and manage the symptoms of the depression
Ask the student if he/she is suicidal, if you think this is an issue - If yes, escort them to the
• Minimize the student’s feelings by making pat statements such as, “Don’t worry.”“Everything will be better tomorrow.”
• Bombard the student with “fix it” solutions or advice.
• Chastise the student for poor or incomplete work
How to Assist the Anxious
Anxiety is a normal response to a perceived threat to one’s well being. For some students the cause of their anxiety will be clear. For others it is difficult to pinpoint the source of stress. Regardless of the cause, the resulting physical symptoms are experienced as similar and include:
• Rapid heart palpitations
• Chest pain or discomfort
• Sweating, trembling or shaking
• Cold clammy hands
The student may complain of difficulty concentrating, always “being on the edge,” difficulty making decisions or being too fearful to take action. In rare cases a student may experience a panic attack in which the physical symptoms occur spontaneously and intensely in such a way that the student fears harm or death.
What you can do:
• Let them discuss their feelings and thoughts. Often this alone relieves a great deal of pressure
• Provide appropriate reassurance – “sometimes a person may feel the way they are feeling”.
• Remain calm.
• Be clear and directive.
• Provide a safe and quiet environment until the symptoms subside.
• Refer to the
• Minimize the perceived threat to which the student is reacting.
• Take responsibility for their emotional state.
• Overwhelm them
with information or ideas to "fix" their condition.
3) How to Assist the Verbally Aggressive Student
Students usually become verbally abusive when in frustrating situations that they see as being beyond their control; anger and frustration become displaced from those situations onto the nearest target. Explosive outbursts or ongoing belligerent, hostile behavior become this student's way of gaining power and control in an otherwise out-of-control experience. It is important to remember that the student is generally not angry with you personally, but is angry at her/his world and you are the object of pent-up frustrations. This behavior is often associated with the use of alcohol and other drugs.
What you can do:
• 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.”
• Reduce stimulation; invite the person to a quiet open place, if this is comfortable and safe.
• Allow them to ventilate, get the feelings out, and tell you what is upsetting them.
• Be directive and firm about the behaviors you will accept, e.g., "Please stand back; you're too close." "I’d like to hear what you are saying, and I cannot listen to you when you yell and scream at me that way."
• Help the person problem solve and deal with the real issues when they become calmer.
• Send someone to get additional help or call Chabot College Campus Security (911).
• Get into an argument or shouting match.
• Become defensive, hostile or punitive yourself, e.g., "You can't talk to me that way!”
• Press for explanations for their behavior.
• Ignore the situation.
• Don’t touch the student.
• Get necessary help. Send someone for additional staff, call Campus Security, etc.
Typically even the utmost time and energy given to these students is not enough. They often seek to control your time and unconsciously believe the amount of time received is a reflection of their worth. You may find yourself increasingly drained and, feeling responsible for this student in a way that is beyond your normal involvement. It is important that this student be connected with the many sources of support on-campus and in the community in general.
What you can do:
• Set firm and clear limits on your personal time and involvement.
• Let them make their own decisions.
• Focus on your role as teacher rather than as a friend.
• Offer referrals to other resources on and off campus.
• Get trapped into giving advice, allowing special conditions, etc.
• Avoid the student as an alternative to setting and enforcing limits.
This guide was adapted from material provided by the California Organization of Counseling Center Directors in Higher Education,