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If You Are Concerned About a Student

If you are visiting this page, it is likely that you are a friend, professor, staff member, or family member who is concerned about the well-being of a Trinity student.  On this page you will find advice about offering help, including making a referral to Counseling Services, should you realize that the student needs more assistance than you can offer.

HIGH-LEVEL CONCERN: If you believe that the student is at risk of being suicidal or violent, immediately call the Trinity University Police Department for assistance (210-999-7000). University Police will respond and contact Trinity's on-call counselor or Emergency Medical Services, if needed.

MODERATE-LEVEL CONCERN: If the student appears to be in distress without being suicidal or violent:

  • Read 'How to Help a Student' below to guide you in your response to the student. If after reading you would like further direction and you are not a student, you may call us and arrange a phone consultation with one of our counselors. If you are a student and would like further direction or you would like counseling to help you cope with a situation that has negatively affected your own well-being, you may see one of our counselors during Walk-in Hours any weekday afternoon between 1:00 and 4:00..
  • In respect for student autonomy,
    • Counseling Services does not initiate contact with a student of concern. If you believe that someone should check on the well-being of a student, contact the Dean of Students (210-999-8843) who can arrange a "wellness check" by a member of the Residential Life staff, which would include a referral to Counseling Services, if indicated.
    • A student must arrange their own meeting with a counselor; another person cannot schedule an appointment for the student.
  • During evenings and weekends, you may consult with the on-duty Residential Life Coordinator. To do so, call the Trinity University Police Department (210-999-7000) who will connect you with the RLC on duty. The RLC will seek out the student and contact Trinity's on-call counselor, if needed.

Campus Resources

In addition to the assistance we can offer, we have helpful colleagues on campus who are available to assist students, parents, faculty, and staff. Indeed, these individuals frequently collaborate with us to assist our clients when we have received the client's permission to share information.

Mr. David Tuttle, Dean of Students, is the person on campus with the greatest ability to inquire about the well-being of a student. Dean Tuttle is a resource for students in need, their friends, family members, and people in the community. If needed, he can arrange a "wellness check" on a student who is living on campus though a member of the Residential Life staff. You can reach Mr. Tuttle at 210-999-8844 or 210-861-6422 (cell).

Michael Soto, Ph.D., Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs: Student Academic Issues and Retention, is able to assist students and parents with matters related to a student's academic experience at Trinity. This includes academic advising, grading, course overloads, and exceptions to academic policies. Additionally, Soto provides consultation when a student contemplates a temporary withdrawal. You can reach Soto at 210-999-7561.

The Rev. Stephen Nickle, University Chaplain, is available as a spiritual resource for all members of the university community, regardless of religious affiliation. He is useful for pastoral counsel, spiritual direction, or as a sounding board with whom a student can ponder deep questions and vocational concerns. You can reach the Rev. Nickle at 210-999-7311.

Ms. Myeshia Smith, Assistant Director for Student Accessibility Services, is available to assist students with a diagnosed disability to obtain reasonable accommodations. Detailed information is available at the SAS website. You can reach Ms. Morell-Nickle at 210-999-8528.

How to Help a Student

Although students approach Counseling Services directly, some may first turn to you for help because they respect and trust you. In other cases, you may notice signs that a student is in distress or is having difficulty coping, and you decide to make the first move.

The Process of Helping

Helping another person involves caring, listening, understanding, and collaborating. Consider the following guidelines as you offer help.

Step 1: Observe

Notice signs that may indicate that a student is struggling. Spoken expressions of distress or unhappiness are obvious indicators. Other signs include deteriorating academic performance, infrequent class attendance, lack of energy, falling asleep in class, marked changes in personal hygiene or physical appearance, speech that is more rapid or more slow than usual, garbled and disjointed thoughts, changes in eating habits, changes in sleeping habits, threats to harm oneself or others, marked irritability, social withdrawal, crying/tearfulness, or disturbing material in written academic assignments or in messages provided via email, text, or social media.

Step 2: Set the Stage

If you and the student are able to talk face-to-face, ensure that you have privacy. If possible, allow for enough time that the two of you can talk at length, if needed. Minimize distractions (e.g., turn off the ringer on your phone) and talk to the student only if the student is alert and sober. Otherwise, pursue a conversation at another time.

If you must talk with the student from a distance, do so by telephone if possible, rather than e-mail or texting, because a person's tone of voice sometimes conveys important information. When you call the student, ask whether this is a good time to talk for a while (does the student have both time and privacy?). If not, arrange a specific time when both of you have time and privacy.

Before your initial contact, whether in person or by phone, prepare yourself to listen nonjudgmentally to what the student might reveal to you about what they feel or think or have done. Create an atmosphere in which the student can acknowledge difficult or shameful feelings (such as sadness, frustration, anger, or despair), thoughts (such as wanting to drop out of school or die), and behaviors (such as skipping classes, drinking excessively). Your compassionate and supportive attitude will invite the student to open up and will facilitate your discussion.

Step 3: Listen

Listening empathically and nonjudgmentally is THE most important thing you can do! Surprisingly, it can be a difficult task. Listening means encouraging the other person to tell the story of what they are going through, including not only the facts, but also the thoughts and emotions they experience in response to what is happening in their life. Listening empathically means seeking to understand the other person's concerns from their point of view.

At a more basic level, listening requires communicating to the student that they have your full attention. Look at the person directly (without staring, of course), ask him or her to clarify things or tell you more, summarize what they are saying to be sure both you and they know that you understand, and ask questions to explore some relevant matters in greater detail.

If you find the student being defensive or arguing with you, you may not be listening carefully. Instead, you may be attempting to offer advice or solve the problem prematurely, probably because you are under the mistaken impression that giving advice is at the heart of helping. In reality, listening is at the heart of helping. "Just listening" is powerful; it IS "doing something"!

In addition to offering advice prematurely, helpers may also be tempted to offer reassurance too quickly, especially when the distressed student is someone for whom the helper cares deeply. If a helper moves too quickly to reassure or offer comfort in order to help the student feel better, the student may not have the opportunity to express the depth of his or her feelings. The student may even believe that they should not talk about unhappy feelings because unhappy feelings are unacceptable or upsetting to others. Be willing to listen to the unpleasant emotions the student is expressing (such as sadness, fear, anger, embarrassment) without rushing to make the student feel better.

Step 4: Inquire about Suicidal Thoughts

If the student is significantly distressed or depressed, it is important to ask about thoughts of suicide. Asking will not "plant the seed." Don't say, "You're not thinking about killing yourself, are you?" Asking about suicide that way implies that you want the student to say no, even if the answer is yes. Instead, ask something like this: "Are you feeling so bad that you think about ending your life?" If the student admits to such thoughts, ask for specifics about what the student contemplates. The more specific and lethal the thoughts, the greater the risk. If you learn that the student is at risk of committing suicide or being violent, ensure you know of the student's current location and call the Trinity University Police Department for assistance (210-999-7000) if the student is on campus, including in the City Vista apartments. If the student is off campus, call 911.

Step 5: Explore Options

The next step is to offer to help the student generate and consider options for coping or responding to the problem(s) they are experiencing. (Be aware, however, that some students don't need this help because your empathic listening helped them to get unstuck and do what they need to do.) If the student is open to you helping them brainstorm what to do, a good place to start is to ask what the student has already done or thought about. After the student has generated their ideas, then you may have some additional options to offer for consideration.

Be mindful that one option is to seek input from others on campus. Depending on whether the concerns are academic, career-related, or personal, you might suggest that the student consult with a professor, adviser, or member of the staff of campus support services such as Counseling Services, Career Services, Health Services, etc. Counseling Services is often a good place to start on campus because its staff can help a student get connected with other professionals on campus and off campus.

Step 6: Make a Plan

Although you can be helpful in brainstorming options, the final decision about how to proceed must remain with the student. It is important that the student make their own plan of action because they are they more likely to follow through on a plan that is personally acceptable.

Additional Considerations

The student may not feel better immediately after having talked with you. Or they may need some time (days, weeks or months) to work through their situation. Your ongoing support, understanding and acceptance is important during this period.

You may find that you are unable to help the student, whether immediately or after several conversations. If you reach this point, encourage the student to consult with a counselor at Counseling Services whose webpage describes how a student can see a counselor.

If you encourage the student to consult with a counselor and the student refuses or is reluctant, invite the student to express the reasons that they hesitate. Respond to the concerns with empathy and information. For example, if the student is concerned about confidentiality, direct the student to the description of confidentiality on our webpage or explain about confidentiality.

You may call and speak with a counselor to provide information about your concerns. If you do so, any counselor who sees the student will know the reasons for your concern. If we have prevoiusly seen the student, the counselor cannot provide information to the caller unless the student has previously provided consent to do so.

It is typically a good idea to follow up with the student at a later date. This follow-up may solidify the student's resolve to get appropriate help and may demonstrate your commitment to assist in this process. You can ask the student if they kept the appointment, how they thought it went, and whether there is a plan to see the counselor again. Once the student is receiving help, continue to offer support.

"What if the Student Refuses My Help?"

Unfortunately, you cannot make someone open up to you and accept your help. If the student insists that things are okay, convey your ongoing concern and your willingness to offer support in the future. If you later observe continuing or additional signs that the student is struggling, approach the student again to share what you've observed and offer to listen.

It is also possible that the student does not want to burden you with their problems, especially if they have experienced you as someone who is prone to worry. So, you might remind the student that Counseling Services is a place where they can talk confidentially about whatever they may be concerned about.

This guide is based on similar information that was developed at the counseling centers at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Florida, the University of Notre Dame, Stanford University, and Valdosta State University.