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Responding to a Student in Distress

At Shippensburg University concerned peers, family members, faculty, staff, and administrators can have profound and significant impact on a person in distress. In many cases, your sincere approach and caring makes all the difference. By acknowledging that you are aware of his/her distress, you are opening up opportunities to demonstrate your concern. In fact, your compassionate response could have a pivotal effect on a student. When you openly and respectfully acknowledge that you are aware of his or her difficulties, demonstrate your sincere concern about his/her welfare or express willingness to provide assistance in exploring alternatives or options, you can become a catalyst for positive change. We encourage you, whenever possible, to create a private opportunity to speak candidly and directly to someone when you sense that she/he is in academic and/or personal distress. Here are some main things to consider when speaking to a student in distress:

Privacy is Important

By speaking privately, you will minimize embarrassment and shame while demonstrating respect for his/her personal space. Try to find a time when both of you have time and are not rushed or preoccupied. When you do create an opportunity to dialogue, do your best to give your undivided attention, but be sensitive to the fact that she/he may feel a great deal of discomfort in discussing personal issues with you. This discomfort most likely has nothing to do with you personally, but more to do with your perceived status (e.g., as a peer, student leader, or authority figure). It is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel comfortable about what to do next.

Honesty is Important

It is usually best to be frank about the limits of your ability to assist (e.g., limits of time, energy, training, objectivity). It is often reassuring to a student to hear that you respect his/her willingness to talk to you and that you want to support him/her in getting the assistance she/he needs.

Attitude is Everything

Be calm, maintain appropriate eye contact, focus on what is being said without making judgments. Acknowledge the importance of what is being shared. Emphasize that seeking help is NOT a weakness, but rather an intelligent response of seeking appropriate professional assistance.

Strange & Inappropriate Behavior

These behaviors should not be ignored. The student can be informed that such behavior is distracting and inappropriate, particularly in the classroom, residence hall, or in any other organizational setting.

Contact the University Counseling Center

Wellness Center, Naugle Hall - Ground Floor 1871 Old Main Drive Shippensburg, PA  17257 Phone: 717-477-1481 Fax: (717)-477-4041
Mon-Fri: 8:30am-5:00pm, For After-Hours Emergencies call Campus Police at 717-477-1444