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Guidelines for Dealing with Distressed Students

If you choose to try to help a distressed student, or if a student approaches you:

  • Ask to talk to the student in private.
  • Speak directly and honestly to the student.
  • Ask if the student is talking to anyone about the problem (e.g., family or friends). Isolation is rarely useful for those in distress.
  • If you initiate contact, use nonjudgmental terms. For example:
  • Listen to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non-threatening way.
  • Show you understand. Repeat back the essence of what the student has told you. Include both content and feeling:
  • Avoid evaluating and criticizing even if the student asks your opinion.
  • Respect the student's value system, even if you disagree with it.
  • Do not ignore strange or inappropriate behavior.
  • Do not discuss concerns with other students.
    • "I've noticed you've been absent from class lately and I'm concerned," rather than "Where have you been lately? You should be more concerned about your grades."
    • "It sounds like you're not accustomed to this much work and you're worried about failing."