At WVU, we want all of our students to feel supported when it comes to their mental health.
When students are away at college and may feel disconnected from their support systems, they often look to faculty and staff members for guidance and may confide in them about their struggles or concerns about their mental health.
If you feel out of depth when it comes to discussing the topic of mental health with students or feel unsure of the best way to go about doing so, know that you're not alone. However, there are ways to feel more confident when talking with your students in these situations. Also, keep in mind that many of the struggles our students experience may not require the skills of a trained counselor. Here are some things to consider.
Know the resources offered on campus.
While many students simply need you to lend an ear as they express their feelings or need help navigating the WVU system, others may benefit from seeking additional guidance. This is why it's vital to know the various mental health resources WVU offers. . For example, did you know that the Carruth Center has two satellite offices, one specifically forHealth Sciences majors and another for student athletes. There are also multiple immediate online resources that students can access at any time.
If you would like someone from the Carruth Center to provide a training to your department or staff, you can do so by submitting a request.
Be prepared. Do your research.
One of the best tools you can equip yourself and your students with is knowledge. Below you'll find information on some of the most common concerns among students. Have these links saved and ready to send your student at a moment's notice and consider keeping printed materials on hand in your office to provide students if needed.
- ADHD and Cognitive Concerns
- Drugs and Alcohol
- Grief and Loss
- Sexual Health
- Sleep Resources
Here are some examples of questions or concerns students may voice to you and recommendations for how to respond. Note that in each of these scenarios, being empathetic towards your student is key to ensuring they don’t feel dismissed or that their problems don’t matter.
“Being in COVID-19 quarantine/isolation is really taking a toll on me emotionally. I’m not sure how to cope.”
- Did you know that the Carruth Center offers a weekly virtual support space for students who are in quarantine or isolation? It takes place Tuesday’s from 5-6 p.m. on Zoom. If a student would prefer to talk one-on-one with a counselor, encourage them to use TalkSpace or to schedule an appointment with the Carruth Center online or by calling 304-293-4431.
“I can’t shake these suicidal thoughts and ideations but I don’t want anyone to know.”
- If a student tells you that they are suicidal, let them know that you would like to call the Carruth Center together to talk about it and discuss what options they have for support with their suicidal thoughts. If a student emails you these thoughts, it is always encouraged and suggested that you reach out to the Carruth Center for consultation about next steps to take and how to address this with the student.
- If you believe the student is experiencing an immediate life-threatening emergency, call the University Police at 304-293-3136 or 911 immediately. If possible, stay with them until help arrives. If you are worried about a student and it is not an immediate crisis, please submit a referral to the CARE Team.
- Express to the student that it’s never too late to make new friends on campus and that there are different ways to connect with their peers, such as getting involved with a student organization, participating in classes or intramural sports at the Rec Center, or signing up for one of the many Refresh events. You could also encourage them to reach out to a classmate to see if they’d want to study together or do something outside of class sometime.
You can also visit our What to Do If tab for other scenarios and suggestions.
Recognize the signs.
Learning to recognize and respond to signs of distress can be instrumental in helping a student experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis, or contemplating harm to self or others. It’s possible that a student may demonstrate a behavior that is an indicator of distress before they open up to someone about it verbally.
Here are indicators that can be important signs of distress, particularly when they interfere with a student’s health and/or social and academic functioning:
- Unrelenting sadness, hopelessness, or apathy
- Loss of interest in socializing
- Deterioration in academic functioning, included falling behind and missing classes
- Verbal or written threats of suicide, or expressions of hopelessness or a wish to die
- Persistent problems with sleep, appetite, concentration, or motivation
- Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
- Impulsivity and unnecessary risk-taking
- Inappropriate or out-of-context emotional outbursts (unprovoked anger or hostility, sobbing)
- Dramatic changes in energy levels or personality traits
- Worrisome changes in hygiene or personal appearance, including significant weight changes
- Noticeable cuts, bruises, or burns
- Unusual or extreme obsessions – with a person, situation, or topic
- Threats of violence
Sometimes people who attempt suicide, self-harm, or violence give warning of their intentions. Whether you notice one or more of these indicators or have a gut feeling that something is wrong, please take these signs and your intuition seriously.
Create and foster a supportive environment.
If a student is going through a difficult time, it can be a huge relief to feel encouraged to speak up and let someone know they aren't okay. Take the opportunity at the beginning, middle, end, or other stressful times during the semester to let them know that they can come to you (and potentially their friends and/or family) for support if needed. One way to do this is to remind students of your office hours and encourage them to see you if they're feeling stressed or concerned (not just for help on an assignment). These gestures can make a big difference in how supported a student feels throughout the semester. You can also consider adding a syllabus statement that identifies mental health resources for students.
If you believe your student’s mental health may be declining, the only risk you can take in addressing it is by doing nothing. Don’t be afraid to speak to the person directly and let them know you care. Try using “I” statements to express what you’ve observed with them, such as “I’m worried about you because you’ve seemed suddenly withdrawn and really down in class lately.” Be sure to give them your full attention, as well as listen with compassion and without judgement. While being cautious to not offer quick solutions or jump to conclusions, consider suggesting that they seek out resources that could help them.
If you are worried about a student and it is not an immediate crisis, please submit a referral to the CARE Team. If this is an emergent situation or an immediate threat to self or others, please contact these 24/7 resources. Note: Completing a CARE referral in lieu of emergency services will delay a response.