A counselor sits across from a student during an appointment. They're both in plush navy blue chairs, with three windows with blinds behind them.

Learning the Warning Signs of Student Stress

Student Support Network’s March 23 session on how to provide support and referral

March 6, 2018

Maybe some students have stopped coming to class, and when a professor sees them around campus, they don’t look well. Or perhaps a student submitted writings in a journal or essay that an instructor found concerning.

Later this month WPI will host a training program, “Recognizing and Responding to Student Distress" (RRSD) to help faculty and staff learn signs of mental or emotional distress in students—when to be concerned and how to provide immediate support and referral.

The "Recognizing and Responding to Student Distress"
program is part of the Student Support Network.

The session on Friday, March 23, will be held from noon to 1:30 pm in the Rubin Campus Center's Hagglund Room, according to Charlie Morse, director of counseling at the WPI Student Development & Counseling Center. Lunch will be provided.

The offering is part of the Student Support Network, which started in 2006 after WPI received a federal grant for a suicide prevention program where students could help their peers. The six-week program became available for faculty and staff as well, says Morse, but a need was identified for a program that would bring awareness to the same topics with a shorter time commitment.

“It’s under the umbrella of what we call gatekeeper training programs,” he says. “Part of our core mission is to train the community as a whole to be more sensitized and responsive” to potential signs of student distress.

RRSD is offered multiple times during the year with information on what actions faculty or staff members can take in the moment when faced with a potentially distressed student.

Not alone

The American College Health Association (ACHA) National College Health Assessment shows that in spring 2016 some 65 percent of college students in the U.S. reported that they had “felt very sad” over the previous 12 months; 58.4 percent said they had experienced “overwhelming anxiety” over the previous 12 months. Both percentages were increases from three years before, according to the ACHA.

“It’s a very practical conversation about students and mental health issues, and helps faculty and staff reflect on their roles as part of the overall network of support here at WPI.” -Charlie Morse

Morse points out that stress, anxiety, and depression account for about 90 percent of mental health issues in the U.S. “We work to create conversations around critical issues” within the RRSD program, he says.

They may be issues of general student stress, or concerns specific to WPI, such as the university’s seven-week terms, he explains. Gender imbalance in school enrollment can also be a source of anxiety, and students from other countries may experience difficulty adjusting to living and studying here.

The WPI sessions include discussion and role playing on how to support a student at risk of having a breakdown, he says. They show teachers and staffers what to do if faced with this situation, and how and where to make successful referrals for help.  

“It’s a very practical conversation about students and mental health issues," says Morse, "and helps faculty and staff reflect on their roles as part of the overall network of support here at WPI.”

Space for the session is limited to 25; faculty and staff may register for the program through Tuesday, March 20 at 5:00pm.

- By Susan Shalhoub