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Early Identification of Distressed Students

Concerns with Student Distress

Faculty and staff members across the country are increasingly concerned about student distress. Sometimes students inform faculty members about problems in their lives, but sometimes the first sign of a problem is inappropriate behavior in a classroom. Because faculty and staff members are on the front lines and interact with students on a daily basis, they must be alert to signs of student distress and understand their role in helping the student find appropriate assistance. Your keen observation and willingness to take action may be all that is needed to help a student deal with distress successfully.

We all struggle to balance the demands of life which may include concerns with relationships, the loss of loved ones, depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and career concerns. For students, however, these concerns are complicated by the demands of their academic work. We should expect that students may experience fatigue or frustration, but be sensitive to behaviors that may indicate the student is in distress.

Listed below are some common behaviors or indicators of possible distress:

Behavioral Signs of Concern

  • Deterioration in academic performance
  • Poor emotional control
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of energy/enthusiasm
  • Frequent absences from school or work
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Overly dependent
  • Evidence of crying
  • Deterioration of personal appearance/poor hygiene
  • Aggressiveness
  • Mood swings
  • Unusual bruises
  • Signs of substance abuse
  • Verbally abusive
  • Poor social skills
  • Intimidating statements, gestures, or conduct
  • Excessive dependency
  • Isolation from others
  • Situational Signs of Concern

  • Academic failures
  • Financial pressures
  • Health issues
  • Job problems
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Recent or anticipated loss(es)
  • Possible Safety Threats

  • Suicidal statements or threats to self
  • Threats to others
  • Bizarre or erratic conduct

It is unlikely that factors contributing to such behavior will disappear, and inappropriate or alarming behavior cannot be ignored. It is likely that the behavior is not isolated and is occurring in more than one place; thus, the responsibility to observe and report behavioral concerns is a shared responsibility among the faculty and staff members of the Fontbonne community.

What Faculty Members Should Not Do:

  • Do not counsel or confront the student
  • Do not promise the student that you will keep a secret.
  • Do not contact his/her family or any health care provider

While no list of behaviors or set of procedures can cover every situation and while it is possible at times that some behaviors simply may be characteristic of typical college students for any number of reasons, the notification procedures in effect at Fontbonne University are designed to assist a faculty or staff member who has identified a student displaying behaviors as listed above or other behaviors not listed that cause concern.

Notification Procedures:

  • If a student exhibits problem behavior as listed above, or other behaviors not listed that cause concern, please contact the Vice President for Student Affairs at 314-889-1410 immediately. If you observe the behavior outside of regular daytime office house and do not consider it to be an emergency, leave a voicemail message. If your call is not returned within 24 hours, please call again to be sure it was received. At the same time, send an email notification to your department chair summarizing the situation and indicating that you have contacted the Vice President for Student Affairs.
  • If the student is in the OPTIONS program, contact Bill Foster, Director of Faculty Services at 314-889-1418 or e-mail wfoster@fontbonne.edu.
  • If a student discloses that he/she has a disability or needs academic accommodations, call the director of the Kinkel Center for Academic Resources at 314-719-3627, or email him at mpousson@fontbonne.edu at your earliest convenience.
  • If there is an immediate concern for your safety or for the safety of others contact Public Safety at 314-889-HELP immediately.
  • In addition to the above notifications, please inform your direct supervisor of all actions.

In addition to identifying and responding to student behavior or indicators of possible emotional distress, it is imperative that faculty be knowledgeable of FERPA (Family Education Rights and Privacy Act) which protects the privacy of student records. Information about FERPA can be found in Volume II of the Fontbonne University Policy Manual.

Faculty or staff members who wish to learn more about recognizing signs of student distress are encouraged to contact the staff at Personal Counseling at 314-889-4516 or visit their webpage at http://www.fontbonne.edu/studentlife/counselingwellness/

Faculty members are provided a paper copy of these guidelines to sign and submit to the Office of Academic Affairs each academic year. For an additional copy of these guidelines, please contact the Office of Academic Affairs at 314-889-1401.