Because faculty see students regularly and often are the source of advice and support for students, they comprise the “front line” for students at risk of academic or personal consequences because of emotional or physical distress or challenging life circumstances. Staff, too, are key sources of support and guidance. Referring students who discuss relatively serious situations to the Personal Counseling offices on both campuses can provide students with optimal support by connecting them with individuals who have specialized training and access to resources off campus if needed, and who regularly address crisis situations. Referral is also helpful in maintaining the professional boundaries of faculty and staff positions.
At Gainesville State College, faculty and staff often consult with counselors regarding specific students; they ask about the significance of specific behaviors and procedures for referring students for services. This brief referral guide will provide indicators of behavior that merits a referral to a counselor, describe how to make a referral, offer suggestions about how to respond to personal problems students bring to faculty and staff, and answer a few common questions.
INDICATORS THAT A STUDENT WOULD BENEFIT BY A REFERRAL TO THE COUNSELING OFFICE
Expressed Need for Help
Students may state a need for counseling directly or indirectly. It’s important to respond by trying to understand the underlying intentions and feelings so students feel their concerns are valid and that they are respected, valued, and understood. (Read below for detailed information about how you might communicate with students expressing this need.)
A student who begins to behave in an unusual manner may be signaling the need for individual attention. The behaviors listed below may suggest a problem that requires assistance. Single, isolated behaviors typically are not a cause for concern, but clusters of these behaviors may be significant:
- Withdrawal from typical social interactions or discussion patterns as usually seen in the classroom or department
- Marked seclusion and unwillingness to communicate
- Persistent lying, stealing, or other antisocial acts
- Obvious shyness or lack of social skills
- Complaints of inability to sleep or excessive sleeping
- Complaints of loss of appetite or excessive appetite
- Dramatic weight gain or loss
- Unexplained crying or outbursts of anger
- Acutely increased activity, e.g., excessive talking or extreme restlessness
- Repeated absence from classes, with little or no work completed
- Unusual displays of irritability
- Impaired speech or garbled, disjointed thoughts
- Incoherent or rambling conversation, disjointed thoughts
- Unusual suspiciousness or irrational feelings of persecution
- Irrational worrying or expressions of fear
- Dramatic change in hygiene, dress and appearance
- Listlessness, lack of energy, or frequently falling asleep in class
- Bizarre or strange behavior that is inappropriate to the situation
- Emotions expressed to an extreme degree or for a prolonged period of time
- Behavior which regularly disrupts classroom
Students will sometimes disclose to faculty or staff members their anxiety about significant life events or stressors, incomplete work, low test scores, or poor progress in a course. Students in these situations may benefit from a referral to help them to cope:
- Death of a family member or a close friend
- Marriage/partnership or family relationships
- Dating or relationship difficulties
- Physical or sexual assault, criminal activity, natural disasters
- Physical illness, particularly chronic/serious medical conditions
- Acculturation problems or difficulties adjusting to a different culture
Signs of Substance Abuse
Alcohol consumption is generally considered a normal part of college life and tends to be taken for granted. While some students are of legal age and are able to drink responsibly, as a group, college students are at a significantly high risk for alcohol-related problems. A segment of the population of traditional-age college students (18-22) engage frequently in high risk drinking behaviors; some spend more money on alcohol than textbooks. First-year students are especially vulnerable to problems with substance abuse because of a changing environment and freedom from being observed by parents. Peer pressure, even good-natured, communicates an expectation to drink as part of college life.
Substance abuse is related to lower academic performance, a tendency to drop out of college and high-risk behaviors such as alcohol-related accidents and sexual assault. It is important to familiarize yourself with the behavioral characteristics of substance abuse that potentially affect our students' success.
Single, isolated behaviors typically are not a cause for concern, but clusters of these behaviors may be significant:
- Change in style of dress
- Change in grooming
- Change in personal hygiene
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Changes in personality
- Dramatic mood swings
- Audible discussions with peers about arrests, uninhibited behavior, poor judgment while under the influence (including blackouts), hangovers, headaches
- Grades fall, uncharacteristically poor or inconsistent work
- Missing classes (and with increasing frequency)
- Sleeping in class
- Lacking in motivation, self-discipline
- Changed study habits
- Problematic interactions with professors or others
- Disruptive comments or behaviors in class
- Excessive procrastination
- Repeated requests for special consideration
- Career/major indecisiveness
- Dropping out of activities
- Changing attitudes toward rules and regulations
- Isolating (withdrawing from others)
- Blaming others for troubles
- Different friendships, friends talk about abusing substances
- Most activities involve use of drugs or alcohol
- Irritable or angry
- Arrests for underage drinking and/or DUI; tickets for speeding or reckless driving
- Thefts, assaults, arrests
- Drunkenness, obvious intoxication
- Possession of drugs/alcohol or drug paraphernalia
- Persistent use of substances despite negative consequences
- Direct reference to own substance abuse problem
HOW TO COMMUNICATE EFFECTIVELY WITH DISTRESSED STUDENTS
When attempting to talk with a student about a personal or emotional situation, it is helpful to:
- Talk to the student in a private setting
- Listen actively, with interest and concern
- Avoid promising secrecy
- Avoid reacting with alarm or excessive emotion
- Talk in a calm, even voice, despite the student's level of emotionality
- Repeat back the essence of what the student has told you
- Respect the students right to their own values by avoiding judgmental or ‘moralizing’ remarks or religious references (“have you prayed about it?”)
- Consider Personal Counseling as a resource and discuss a referral with the student (MAKING THE REFERRAL TO PERSONAL COUNSELING
- Involve yourself to the extent that you are comfortable. Extending oneself can be a gratifying experience when kept within realistic limits
- If the student resists help and you are concerned, contact the Counseling Center to discuss your concerns
- Display openness to the student
- Provide feedback: paraphrase or briefly summarize what you see as the root of the person's message
- Be honest and really listen: set aside time to talk with the student if you are unable to at that time
- Listen for requests and intentions
WHEN TO REFER TO PERSONAL COUNSELING
In addition to the behaviors and events listed above, a referral is advisable:
- When a student presents a problem or requests information that falls outside your range of knowledge or exceeds your comfort level
- When personality differences between you and the student, or your feelings toward the student, will interfere with your ability to help him or her
- When your relationship with the student is other than professional (friend, neighbor, relative)
- When the student is reluctant to discuss his or her concern(s) with you
- When you do not believe your advisement or guidance has been effective
- When the student seems to be at risk personally and/or presents a serious suicide threat
- See the GSC web site under Disability Services for information related to referring a student for a learning disability evaluation (Gainesville 678-717-3839 or 678-717-3853; Oconee 706-310-6204)
HOW TO REFER TO PERSONAL COUNSELING
If you believe a student might benefit from professional personal counseling, show concern and be direct in a straight-forward, matter-of-fact fashion. It’s acceptable to ask, "Are you talking with anyone about this?" Make it clear that your suggestion is based on your observations and that you understand you don’t know all relevant factors. Avoid generalizations (“you’ve been looking upset”) or attributing negatives to the individual's personality or character (“you’re not the student you used to be”). Be specific about the behaviors that cause you to be concerned (“you have a zero for two test grades and have missed six classes,” “you have fallen asleep in class several times this month”).
Except in case of emergency, the student should have the freedom to choose whether to get personal counseling. If the student is skeptical or reluctant, accept his or her feelings so the student has time to consider the idea (“we can talk about it after you have time to think about it”). If the student refuses, respect the decision and remain interested and supportive. This creates the opportunity for future discussion and even reconsideration. If you push the issue too far – insist, repeat suggestion, remind, prod you may close the door to the possibility that the student seeks help. A relaxed, calm approach is best; unless the situation is clearly urgent.
At times, a faculty member may wish to make counseling mandatory because of a student’s poor performance or behavior(s). Occasionally, personal counselors have worked with students in these situations. However, most students are not motivated to change if forced to seek personal counseling. In the case of performance or behavioral problems in the classroom, it is suggested that faculty make written agreements with students, stating specific behavior changes the student must make, and then sign the contract and ask the student to sign. The faculty member can add, in writing or verbally, a strong recommendation that meeting with a personal counselor is likely to help the student meet the requirements of the contract and can provide information about making an appointment. A student approaching counseling under these circumstances is more likely to benefit and make changes to restore academic or personal functioning.
If possible, ensure an appointment is made, if possible. If on the Gainesville campus, invite the student to call from your office or give the student the telephone number, 678.717.3660 or, on Oconee campus, offer to make the appointment by going to the online scheduler at http://www.uburst.com/cgi-bin/ureserve/hosted/gsc.pl). There is an additional sense of commitment when a faculty member is involved and the student agrees to follow through.
MAKING THE REFERRAL
When you recognize that a student may benefit from counseling, referrals are important and easy to make:
- If you aren’t sure about referring a student, contact a personal counselor for a consultation.
- Encourage the student to talk to you. Invite the student to your office to discuss work or past academic performance. Typically, students who are in distress are aware that things are not going well and this provides an opportunity to discuss what the student might do.
- Communicate the benefits of personal counseling. Most faculty have referred a student and have seen the student find relief, resources, and ideas about steps to take in order to improve his or her situation. Most colleges and universities have counseling centers because students experience many changes and stressors.
- Communicate that personal counseling is confidential and free of charge.
- Encourage the student to make an appointment with a personal counselor (at Gainesville campus, by calling 678.717.3660 or walking to Room 115 of the Student Center; at Oconee campus, by emailing email@example.com or walking to Room 113 of the Administration Building).
- Ensure an appointment is made, if possible. If on the Gainesville campus, invite the student to call from your office or give the student the telephone number or, on Oconee campus, offer to make the appointment by going to the online scheduler at http://www.uburst.com/cgi-bin/ureserve/hosted/gsc.pl . There is an additional sense of commitment when a faculty member is involved and the student agrees to follow through.
- Encourage the student to identify you as their referral source, and stress that what is discussed with the counselor is private – it will not be shared with you unless the student chooses to give permission for the personal counselor to contact you regarding the student's progress. You can also encourage the student to allow the personal counselor to send email confirmation, only, that the student attended the appointment; by stressing that you are asking only due to your concern, this request may not be seen as intrusive.
- Even if the student does not immediately contact personal counseling, your expressed concern is likely to be helpful and will make the student aware that professional help exists on campus.
- If you are strongly concerned about a student but a crisis does not seem imminent, use the GSC At-Risk Behavior Reporting Form.
- In cases of a student whose emotional state causes inability to participate in class, contact Personal Counseling (on the Gainesville campus, call 678.717.3660 or walk to Room 115 of the Student Center; at Oconee campus, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or walk to Room 113 of the Administration Building).
IMPORTANT: If crisis or suicide appears imminent, use the click on the task bar of a GSC computer, call GSC Security (Gainesville 678.717.1777 or 678.717.3475; Oconee 706.215.1474), or dial 911.
REFERENCES TO SUICIDE
Suicide.org reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students and that the number-one cause of suicide for college student suicides is untreated depression. College students at risk for suicide appear to share a number of other risk factors including loneliness, high stress levels, and hopelessness. The strongest risk factors for attempted suicide in youth are depression, alcohol or other drug use disorder, and aggressive or disruptive behaviors.
The actual act of suicide typically is not a response to a single event. It is a series of events, feelings and thoughts that place an individual at risk for suicidal behavior.
At least 70 percent of all people committing suicide give some clue as to their intentions before they make an attempt. Becoming aware of these clues and the severity of the person's problems can help prevent such a tragedy. Many persons convey their intentions directly with statements such as "I feel like killing myself" or "I don't know how much longer I can take this." Others in crisis may hint at a detailed suicide plan with statements such as "I've been saving up my pills in case things get really bad," or "Lately, I've been driving my car like I really don't care what happens." In general, statements describing feelings of depression, helplessness, extreme loneliness, and/or hopelessness may suggest suicidal thoughts. It is important to listen to these "cries for help" because they are usually desperate attempts to communicate to others the need to be understood and helped.
Often persons thinking about suicide show outward changes in their behavior. They may withdraw from those around them, change eating or sleeping patterns, change their appearance (looking disheveled, wearing dirty clothing), or lose interest in prior activities or relationships. They may prepare for death by giving away prized possessions or suddenly becoming purposeful and well-organized. A sudden, intense lift in spirits may also be a danger signal, as it may indicate a sense of relief knowing the problems will "soon be ended."
Faculty or staff who are concerned about students who appear at risk should not attempt to make an assessment of suicide. Instead, they can be play a critically important role by recognizing any symptoms that indicate the student is troubled and ensure the student is seen by a personal counselor. Even though it may seem like a despairing statement (“I just can’t stand this anymore”) is simply expressed anguish and not a reflection of suicidal intent, a referral is necessary if a person talks about suicide or alludes to it. To assess a student's suicidal comments as a simple bid for attention is extremely risky.
A judgment about the seriousness and the possible lethality of a suicidal thought or gesture should not be made without consulting with Personal Counseling (walking the student to the Personal Counseling office) or, if a counselor isn’t immediately available, by using the GSC At-Risk Behavior Reporting Form. If suicide appears imminent, use the click on the task bar of a GSC computer, call GSC Security (Gainesville 678.717.1777 or 678.717.3475; Oconee 706.215.1474), or dial 911.
Emergency -- GET HELP IMMEDIATELY!
- Expression of suicidal thoughts
- Expression of homicidal thoughts
- Severe loss of emotional control
- Significant impairment in thinking ability
- Bizarre behavior
Regardless of the circumstances or context, any clear reference to suicide, threat of suicide, or attempt at suicide is extremely serious and should be reported with the GSC At-Risk Behavior Reporting Form.
Myths About Suicide
Myth: "Only ‘crazy people’ think about suicide."
Fact Most people have thought of suicide from time to time. Most suicides and suicide attempts are made by intelligent, temporarily confused individuals who are expecting too much of themselves, especially in the midst of a crisis.
Myth: "Once a person has made a serious suicide attempt, that person is unlikely to make another."
Fact: The opposite is often true. Persons who have made prior suicide attempts may be at a greater risk of actually committing suicide; for some, suicide attempts may seem easier a second or a third time.
Myth: "If a person is seriously considering suicide, there is nothing you can do."
Fact: Most suicidal crises are time-limited and based on unclear thinking. Persons attempting suicide want to escape from their problems. Instead, they need to confront their problems directly in order to find other solutions--solutions that can be found with the help of concerned individuals who support them through the crisis period, until they are able to think more clearly.
Myth: "Talking about suicide may give a person the idea."
Fact: The crisis and resulting emotional distress already have triggered the thought in a vulnerable person. Your openness and concern in asking about suicide will allow the person experiencing pain to talk about the problem, which may help reduce his or her anxiety. This may also allow the person with suicidal thoughts to feel less lonely or isolated, and perhaps a bit relieved.
UCLA suicide prevention experts suggest communicating this information to a person in crisis: "The suicidal crisis is temporary. Unbearable pain can be survived. Help is available. You are not alone."
FAQ in BRIEF
Q: Are there counseling offices on both campuses?
A: Yes. At Gainesville in Room 115 of the Student Center, and at Oconee in Room 113 of the Administration Building.
Q: Is there a fee for counseling?
A: No, counseling on both campuses is free and confidential.
Q: I want to know if a student has come to see you. Can you tell me?
A: Because trust is an important factor in an effective counseling relationship, personal counselors ensure that what is shared by a student is not reported to anyone outside the session and also keep confidential whether or not a student is working with a counselor (except in the event of an emergency, if a student is at risk of harming self or others). However, in the event that a student signs a written request for the personal counselor to share information with a faculty member, confidentiality is waived for that specific information.
Q: Do personal counselors call parents when they see a student?
A: No, just as personal counselors do not share information with faculty or staff (except in an emergency), they do not communicate with parents unless the student is at risk or the student gives signed permission granting the counselor the right to speak on his or her behalf.
Q: I’m not sure when to use the At-Risk Behavior Reporting Form. Can you help?
A: In general, use the form if you are having a persisting concern about a student who seems to be more troubled than a passing change of mood, whom you know has experienced a significant event or loss, or whose behavior suggests that he or she is unable to cope. If you are uncertain, contact the personal counselors for a consultation (on the Gainesville campus, call 678.717.3660 or walk to Room 115 of the Student Center; at Oconee campus, by emailing email@example.com or walking to Room 113 of the Administration Building).
Q: Who sees the At-Risk Behavior Reporting Form:
A: Depending on the campus you identify, the form is sent to two Care Team representatives who will contact you within 24 hours.
Q: Can faculty get personal counseling?
A: Yes, on both campuses, personal counselors provide short-term counseling and can make referrals when more time is needed. Due to high demand, these limits are necessary to ensure students are fully served.
Q: Do you test students for Disabilities?
A: No. However, Disability Services can assist students in accessing the testing they require.