Faculty Information

Faculty are often on the front lines for students in distress. A student often views a professor as confidant, role model or friend. You are welcome to call University Counseling Services to consult with one of our staff about how to best help a student. You can reach us at (804) 828-6200.

Common sources of student distress

Students will often approach a faculty member about their concerns before talking to a friend or a family member. Some common problems:

  • Family problems
  • Problems with a romantic partner or spouse
  • Academic difficulty
  • Alcohol or drug problems
  • Stress
  • Depression
Signs of students having emotional problems

The key to recognizing distress is to look for change:

  • Sudden change in behavior
  • Changes in class attendance
  • Changes in quality of student work
  • Changes in appearance and/or grooming
  • Sleeping in class or changes in attention

Three basic things to remember

  1. Your expression of concern may provide students the motivation they need to seek appropriate help or services.
  2. You are not responsible for the students' well-being or emotional health, nor are you responsible for whether or not the students seek the help they need.
  3. University Counseling Services is available to consult with you about any student you are concerned about, and the staff can help the student locate appropriate assistance.
How to approach a student in distress
  1. Choose a quiet, private place to talk with the student.
  2. Ask if something is wrong that the student would like to talk about.
  3. If you have noticed behavioral changes, it can be helpful to say something like, "I've noticed that your homework assignments are not quite up to your usual quality lately, and I wonder if you are having any personal problems that might be interfering with your work? If I can help, I'd like to."
  4. Communicate care and concern, rather than chastising the student for poor performance.
  5. Ask the student about their support system, i.e. who is available to listen to their problems.
  6. Mentioning the availability of University Counseling Services is sometimes appropriate. Some faculty keep a few copies of our brochure at hand and are familiar with our intake, or initial session, procedures.
What about suicidal students?

Sometimes a student will talk about commiting suicide. These types of statements should be taken very seriously, and the student should be encouraged to seek immediate services at University Counseling Services. We provide 24-hour-per-day, 365-day-per-year emergency services.

If the student refuses to seek services, call us and we will assist you in meeting the particular needs of the student.

If you suspect a student may be suicidal, asking will not "plant the idea" or make it more likely that the student will attempt suicide. Most often, students will be relieved that someone is recognizing the extent of their pain. University Counseling Services can help you manage this type of situation.

It is very important for you to remember that you are not responsible for the student's actions. If you are upset about a situation like this, it is equally important that you seek the support you need. University Counseling Services can help support you and refer you to additional appropriate resources if necessary.

What about violent students?

If a student threatens violence to you or to others, please contact the VCU Police immediately. Safety considerations are paramount in this type of situation. VCU Police work closely with University Counseling Services to assure safety for the university community and to assist the troubled student.