• Faculty Resources

  • Students with Mental Health Concerns:
    A Guide for Faculty and Staff


    Being in college can be stressful.  For the 17 to 22 year-old undergraduate, it is a time of adjusting to academic demands, making preliminary career decisions, separating from one’s family, establishing a sense of identity as a unique person, making choices about ethics and values and learning about sexuality and intimate relationships.

    For the graduate student, law student and the older undergraduate student, there are other developmental challenges and demands.  Juggling multiple roles –student, spouse, parent and employee– can be difficult.  Being uprooted from one’s home community and yet not fully integrated into the university community can be a problem.  Assuming the student role when one is an accomplished adult can be stressful.  Academic pressures and financial problems can add to the strain.

    Click the links below to learn more about our services:

    The Faculty
    Signs of Distress
    Anticipating Distress
    When to Refer
    How to Refer
    Other Sources
    Counseling & Health Services
    Counseling & Health Services Office

    The Faculty

    You are the first line of assistance to students

    Due to the frequency and special nature of their contacts with students, faculty members are in the most direct position to observe students and be aware of their needs.  Moreover, faculty members are often perceived by students as the first point of contact in obtaining advice and support.  At Hamline University, Counseling & Health Services provides assistance to faculty members in matters pertaining to the academic and personal adjustment of students.  Faculty members may consult with the Center staff regarding specific students, with whom they are working, the significance of certain behaviors and the procedure for referring students.  This brief referral guide is designed to answer questions and offer suggestions relating to those issues.

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    Interacting with students perceived
    to be in distress

    As a faculty or staff member, you may find yourself in a position where you or the student believes psychological assistance would be helpful to the student.  The following are meant as tips of pointers if you decide to offer assistance.

    1. Involve yourself to the extent that you feel comfortable.  If you begin to feel overwhelmed by the student’s difficulties, consult or involve others who can help.
    2. Feel free to contact Counseling & Health Services at 523-2204 for consultation or assistance.
    3. If you have a concern, the first step may be to speak directly to the student in a straightforward and nonjudgmental manner.  Indicate behaviors you have observed that worry you, but avoid labels or diagnoses.  It is important to recognize the student may not perceive your concerns as being problematic at this time.
    4. Listen carefully to the student’s concerns and help the student to express his or her feelings.  Avoid arguing or offering comments such as “Don’t worry.”  Students who are troubled usually want someone who will listen and attempt to understand prior to problem solving.
    5. If problem solving seems appropriate, help the student brainstorm possible solutions.
    6. If appropriate, help the student decide what to do next as a way of addressing the problem or changing the situation.
    7. If appropriate, refer to Counseling & Health Services.

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    Signs of Distress

    An awareness of some of the more apparent indicators of psychological distress can be helpful in making a decision about referring a student for counseling.  To prevent over-interpretation of single, isolated behaviors, it is generally more useful to look for clusters of signs:


    The depressed student may be characterized by:

    • Sadness

    • Hopelessness

    • Apathy

    • Low energy

    • Difficulty concentrating

    • Withdrawn form friends

    • Change in eating, sleeping, hygiene and academic habits

    • Guilt

    • Substance abuse

    • No sense of humor

    • Self mutilating behavior

    Every depressed student is not suicidal, but the risk for suicide is indicated if one or more of the following situations is apparent:

    • Abuse of drugs or alcohol

    • Previous suicide attempts

    • Thoughts of suicide or preoccupation with death

    • A plan for how to commit suicide

    • A means to commit suicide (i.e., weapon, pills)

    • A parent, sibling or close friend who committed suicide or made an attempt

    • Giving away prized possessions

    • Social isolation

    • Irrational of illogical thinking (i.e., paranoid thinking)

    It is helpful to respond by:

    • Reducing stimulation (i.e., talk with the student where there is not an audience –if you feel comfortable)

    •  Allowing the student to ventilate feelings

    • Refusing to engage in an argument

    • Not accepting abusive behavior

    • Being firm and setting limits

    • Talking about suicide if that is on the student’s mind.

    • There is no danger in asking the student, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” if you suspect this.

    • Referring the student to Counseling & Health Services

    • If you think the student is suicidal, consult and refer –do not try to handle the situation alone.


    The anxious student may be characterized by:

    • Worry, fear, dread, sense of impending doom

    • Edginess, distractibility, difficulty concentrating

    • Fast speech, agitation

    • Panicky feelings or panic attacks

    • Insomnia

    • Physiological signs such as shortness of breath, sweating, trembling, digestive problems

    • Phobias (i.e., irrational fear of an object, activity or situation)

    • Obsessive thoughts (i.e., recurring, persistent ideas that the student cannot ignore)

    • Compulsive, ritualistic behavior (i.e., repetitive behavior performed in a stereotypical fashion, which the student cannot seem to control)

    It is useful to respond by:

    • Helping the student to physically relax

    • Talking slowly and calmly to the student

    • Encouraging the student to discuss his or her feelings

    • Helping the student to identify the sources of stress and referring the student for professional help

    Eating Disorders

    The student with an eating disorder may be characterized by:

    • Bingeing, vomiting, abusing laxatives

    • Bizarre or ritualistic eating behaviors

    • Compulsive or excessive exercising

    • Obsession with weight, feeling fat when one is thin

    • Significant weight loss or weight gain

    • Wearing baggy clothes to conceal one’s weight loss

    Aggression or Hostility

    The aggressive or hostile student may be characterized by:

    • Frustration

    • Low self-esteem

    • Feeling out of control

    • Anger, resentment

    • Suspiciousness

    • Blaming others for problems

    • Physical agitation

    • Outbursts

    Substance Abuse

    The student with a substance abuse problem may by characterized by:

    • Binges or benders

    • Frequently drinking or using drugs alone

    • Minimization of chemical use

    • Blackouts

    • Anti-social behavior such as assault behavior or vandalism

    • Difficulty concentrating

    • Poor class attendance

    • Poor academic performance

    • Isolation

    • Apathy

    • Depression

    Other Signs of Distress

    • Sudden changes in academic performance

    • Withdrawal from usual social interaction

    • Marked seclusion and unwillingness to communicate

    • Persistent lying, stealing or other asocial acts

    • Shyness, lack of social skills

    • Inability to sleep or excessive sleeping

    • Loss of appetite or excessive appetite

    • Unexplained crying or outbursts of anger

    • Acutely increased activity (i.e., ceaseless talking or extreme restlessness)

    • Unusual irritability

    • Suspiciousness, irrational feelings of persecution

    • Irrational worrying or expressions of fear

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    Anticipating Distress

    In addition to the student's behaviors and feelings, it is helpful to be alert to specific events which can trigger emotional difficulty.  Although psychological distress may appear at any time, there are some common precipitating events.  These events can include:

    • Anticipation of exams or papers

    • Serious illness or death of a family member or friend

    • Separation, divorce or remarriage of parents

    • Relocation of student's home

    • Breakup of a romantic relationship

    • Serious financial problems

    • Anticipation of return home for vacation or summer

    You may wish to extend yourself to students who have experienced major changes in their lives, to inquire about how they are doing, and to offer a listening ear.

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    When to Refer

    Aside from the signs or symptoms that may suggest the appropriateness of counseling, there are other guidelines which can help you define the limits of your involvement with a particular student's problem.  A referral is usually indicated when:

    • A student makes a direct request for help finding a counselor;
    • A student discusses the how, where, or when of a suicide plan;
    • A student presents a problem or requests information which is outside your range of knowledge;
    • You feel that personality differences that cannot be resolved between you and the student will interfere with your helping the student;
    • You are too close to the student to be objective;
    • If a student is reluctant to discuss a problem with you for some reason;
    • When you do not believe your attempt to help the student has been effective.

    In the case of an actual suicide attempt or other serious crisis, call the University Dean of Students Office (523-2421), Counseling & Health Services (523-2204), or Security (523-2100).

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    How To Refer

    When you have decided that a student might benefit from professional counseling, speak directly to the student in a straightforward, matter-of-fact fashion, showing simple, concrete concern.  It is usually counterproductive to trick or deceive a student.  Make it clear that this recommendation represents your best judgment based on your observations of the student's behavior.  Be specific regarding the behaviors that have raised your concerns and avoid making generalizations or attributing anything negative to the individual's personality or character.  With most students this will be the most persuasive and effective approach you can take.

    Except in emergencies, the option must be left open for the student to accept or refuse counseling.  If the student is skeptical or reluctant for whatever reason, simply express your acceptance of his or her feelings so that he or she feels free to reject the referral without rejecting you.  Give the student room to consider the alternatives by offering to talk about this later if the student wishes to do so.  If he or she emphatically says, "No," then respect their decision and again leave the situation open.  If you push the issue too far -- insisting, prodding, or appearing as an authoritarian parent -- you may close the door to future communication.  Unless it is a matter of clear urgency, go slowly.  Feel free to consult with someone at Counseling & Health Services regarding the best way to approach a referral.

    You may call Counseling & Health Services (523-2204) with the student present or the student may call directly to arrange an appointment.  If you prefer, you may walk over to Counseling & Health Services with the student.  If appropriate, suggest to the student that with his or her permission you will give information to the counselor about the nature of the problem.  Finally, follow up with the student at a later date to show your continued interest even if he or she did not accept a referral.  Due to confidentiality, Counseling & Health Services will not be able to release information to you without signed permission from the student.

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    It is important for Hamline University faculty to understand that the interviews conducted by counseling psychologists are confidential in nature, and information about those interviews or the content of such interviews cannot be released except upon a student's written request or as may be required by law.  Counseling & Health Services adheres to this policy very strictly.  However, we will be pleased to consult with you regarding your concerns.

    If you are interested in a student's contact with the Center, information can best be obtained directly from the student.  It should be noted that students are not bound by the same promises of confidentiality that professional counseling psychologists are obliged to keep.

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    Other Sources

    Some students may be reluctant to use the professional counseling service on campus.  If you wish to help a student identify other sources of assistance, we can provide information and consultation regarding referrals to professionals in the community.

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    An emergency is a situation in which you feel the student is an immediate danger to himself/herself or others.  It is important in an emergency to get help from others, not to feel that you need to handle it alone.

    Some guidelines for responding:
    • Assess the situation and reduce environmental stimulation.
    • Communicate calmly, but firmly, and feel free to set limits.  Be directive.
    • Listen and acknowledge the student's feelings, but offer alternatives to inappropriate and destructive behaviors.
    • Call for help.  Call Counseling & Health Services (523-2204) or the University Dean of Students Office (523-2421) for further assistance.  For emergencies after regular working hours, contact Campus Security (523-2100).

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    Counseling & Health Services

    Counseling & Health Services at Hamline University is a support and educational service for the entire campus community.  The Center is staffed by professional counselors.

    The mission of the Center is based on the premise that the college experience is one of personal development as well as intellectual discovery. The Center's function is to help students define and accomplish personal and academic goals and to help them cope with personal difficulties which might hinder their academic progress.  Our emphasis is on promoting psychological and emotional development.

    Many students use the services of the Center to discuss a broad range of concerns, including anxiety, depression, relationships, procrastination, personal identity, adjustment and conflict.  It is important to recognize that help and assistance are not narrowly limited to those with severe disturbances.  While the Center is able to assist those with severe problems, its broader purpose is to provide help for the average student with typical needs that relate to academic and personal development.  We are also available to consult if you have questions regarding how to approach, confront or refer a student.

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    Counseling & Health Services Office

    Located in Manor Basement Room 16
    Hours: 8:00am – 12:00pm and 1:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.,
    Monday through Friday

    Services include:

    • Individual, couples, and group counseling

    • Support groups on topics such as procrastination, stress management, eating disorders, adult children of alcoholics

    • Workshops, consultation, and other preventive-educational services

    • Referrals to community resources, particularly where intensive and ongoing therapy is needed

    To make a counseling appointment, call (651) 523-2204.

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  • Hamline News

    Major construction along Snelling Avenue near campus may cause traffic detours and delays this summer and early fall.

    As Hamline Law looks ahead to becoming Mitchell|Hamline School of Law, they recently took the opportunity to reflect on the school's tremendous history over the past 40 years.