The WPI Student Development and Counseling Center (SDCC) is dedicated to promoting the safety, emotional health, and personal growth of all WPI students, as well as cultivating a supportive campus. Because faculty and staff members are often the first to recognize a student experiencing distress, we provide several resources to help you confidently identify and respond to these situations. Working together, we can help students develop lifelong skills in support of good mental and physical health.
Recognizing Students in Distress
Faculty and staff members are often the first to notice a student experiencing distress. If you observe a student who is showing signs of difficulty, please alert the SDCC, Dean of Students, or Academic Advising.
You do not have to take on the role of counselor, but we may encourage you to have a more direct conversation with the student to gather additional information, express your concerns, and offer resource referral information.
There are oftentimes indications that a student is experiencing distress long before a situation escalates. To support our students in maintaining their mental health and maximizing their intellectual growth, it’s important to identify difficulties as early as possible.
What to Look For
While the presence of one of the following indicators alone does not necessarily mean that a student is experiencing severe distress, the more indicators you notice, the more likely that he or she needs help. When in doubt, consult with the SDCC.
- Repeated absences from class, section, or lab
- Missed assignments, exams, or appointments
- Deterioration in quality or quantity of work
- Written or artistic expression of unusual violence, morbidity, social isolation, despair, or confusion; essays or papers that focus on suicide or death
- Patterns of perfectionism: Can’t accept themselves if they don’t get an A
- BEHAVIORAL AND EMOTIONAL
- Direct statements indicating distress, family problems, or loss
- Angry or hostile outbursts, yelling, or aggressive comments
- More withdrawn or more animated than usual
- Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness; severe anxiety or irritability
- Lack of response to outreach from staff
- Deterioration in physical appearance or personal hygiene
- Excessive fatigue, exhaustion
- Noticeable cuts, bruises, or burns
- Disorganized speech, rapid or slurred speech, confusion
Responding to Students in Distress
When you have identified a student in distress, you have the option of choosing to:
- Speak directly to the student
- Refer the student to a WPI resource such as the SDCC, Dean of Students, or WPI Care Team.
These options are certainly not mutually exclusive; in many situations, doing both will be appropriate. Your decision about where to begin may be influenced by:
- Your level of experience
- Your existing relationship/rapport with the student
- The nature or severity of the problem
- Your ability to give time to the situation
If you chose to make contact, you will not be taking on the role of counselor. You need only listen, care, and offer resource referral information.
- Meet privately with the student; choose a time and place where you will not be interrupted.
- Set a positive tone. Express your concern and caring.
- Point out specific signs you’ve observed. "I’ve noticed lately that you…"
- Listen attentively to the student’s response and encourage him or her to talk. “Tell me more about that.”
- Allow the student time to tell the story. Allow silences in the conversation. Don’t give up if the student is slow to speak.
- Ask open-ended questions that deal directly with the issues without judging. "What problems has that situation caused you?"
- Suggest campus resources.
- Avoid promises of confidentiality, particularly if the student presents a safety risk.
- Change is a process. Let the student know that you are interested in hearing how he or she is doing in a day or two and then follow up.
If there are signs of safety risk, ask if the student is considering suicide. A person contemplating suicide will likely be relieved that you asked. If he or she is not, asking the question will not plant the idea in his or her head.
Acknowledge your limitations. When referring a student, make it clear that your referral to someone else does not mean that you think there is something wrong with the student or that you are not interested. Explain that it instead has to do with the limitations of your knowledge and experience. The referral organization/office, on the other hand, has the resources and training to assist the student in a more appropriate manner.
Initiate the referral. Provide name, phone number, and office location of the referral location or walk the student to the SDCC or other appropriate resource such as the Dean of Students if doing so seems like it would help him or her follow through. Try to normalize the need to ask for help as much as possible. It can be reassuring if you know the names of staff members and can speak highly of them. Convey the spirit of hopefulness that troublesome situations can and do get better.
Accept students’ concerns. Recognize that your offer of help may be rejected. People in varying levels of distress sometimes deny their problems because it is difficult to admit they need help or they think things will get better on their own. Take time to listen to the student’s fears and concerns about seeking help. Let the student know that it is because of your concern that you are referring him or her to an important resource.
Offer to follow up. End the conversation in a way that will allow you or the student to come back to the subject at another time. Keep the lines of communication open and invite the student back to follow up.
Consult with the SDCC
The SDCC welcomes information from staff and faculty members, parents, friends, and anyone concerned about our students. While the boundaries of confidentiality prevent us from sharing information with you about students we see, our work is always strongly aided by your observations and comments.
The SDCC staff is always willing to strategize with you on how to approach students and connect them with our office or other appropriate resources. Please call our office at 508-831-5540 to set up consultation with one of our staff members.
Faculty & Staff Training
If you are interested in participating in these trainings, please email us or call 508- 831-5540 for more information.
- Recognizing and Responding to Students in Distress : This 90-minute interactive training session for faculty and staff examines ways students may struggle, discuss effective strategies for reaching out, and identify available resources for further assistance.
- Student Support Network : The Student Support Network (SSN) is a six-week training series covering the nature of good mental and emotional health, warning signs that someone may be struggling, ways to approach and talk to those in need, and resources for more help. SSN training is available for both students and faculty members. The faculty track, also open to WPI staff members, is scheduled in C-Term during the academic year.
Community Development Committee
Looking for Counseling Services for You or Your Family?
WPI’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) offers services for employees and their families. EAP counselors provide assessment, referral, and brief counseling services that are free and confidential.
Help for Classroom or Project Teams
Working with teams and leading groups can be challenging for students, so the SDCC is available to bring team development workshops to your classroom to complement your course curriculum. Workshops last up to 90 minutes and involve a practical discussion of group dynamics, sources of group conflict, and conflict management strategies.
The SDCC staff can also assist project teams experiencing significant group dynamic issues. These consultations are arranged by faculty referral, with a brief assessment and intervention aimed at maximizing the group’s functionality.
To schedule a workshop, or for more information about SDCC consultations, email us, or call 508- 831-5540.