How to Assist the Distressed Student
As a faculty or staff member interacting daily with students, you are in an excellent position to recognize behavior changes that characterize the emotionally troubled student. A student's behavior, especially if it is inconsistent with your previous observations, could well constitute a "cry for help."
Certain signals that distressed students give out may go unnoticed for a variety of reasons. And even when we do notice them, it can be very difficult to intervene. We may feel we are "in over our heads," or we may have competing concerns, such as other students waiting to see us. It is important to know that it is quite likely that the problem will not go away unless there is an intervention. Part of a good intervention requires knowing how to act during these incidents and what resources to call upon.
Understanding the Distressed Student
Anxiety is a normal response to a perceived danger or threat to one's well-being or self-esteem. For some students, the cause of their anxiety will be clear; such as their worries about the current world events. But for others it may be difficult to determine.
Regardless of the cause, one or more of the following symptoms may be experienced: rapid heartbeat, chest pain or discomfort, dizziness, sweating, trembling or shaking, and cold clammy hands. The student may also complain of difficulty concentrating, always being "on edge," having difficulty making decisions, sleeping problems or being too fearful to take action.
In rare cases, a student may experience a panic attack in which physical symptoms occur spontaneously and intensely in such a way that the student may fear he or she is dying. The following guidelines are appropriate in most cases.