Know Strategies to Assist Troubled Students

He was the kind of student any professor would dream of teaching. 

During a recent discussion, sponsored by the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CETL), a professor shared an experience from recent years that he hopes no other faculty member has to go through.

“The first indication I had that anything was wrong was when a colleague who had the student in a class mentioned that the student hadn’t shown up for a presentation,” the professor said. “No one could reach the student, so the police went to the student’s apartment.”

The student had died by suicide. 

“This came as a complete shock to me,” the professor said. “In speaking with the student’s father, I learned that the student had been treated for depression in the past — but that was never shared with any professors or friends.”

Sometimes it can be difficult to detect students who are in trouble — as was the case with this professor and student. But many times, all it takes is simply asking a student if he or she is OK to get clued in.

Tech Students Seeking Help

Over the past seven years, the number of students coming to the Counseling Center for assistance has steadily increased, from 790 new students seeking counseling from 2005 to 2006 to 1,132 new students seeking counseling from 2011 to 2012, said Ruperto Perez, director of the Counseling Center.

“This is pretty consistent with the national data and can be partially attributed to the fact that students are more aware that these services are available and they should use them,” he added.

The number of students seeking treatment for depression and anxiety have remained relatively stable at Tech, which is consistent with national trends.

However, over the past four years, there has been an increase in the number seeking treatment for alcohol and drug abuse, from an average of 8.2 percent from 2004 to 2007 to 9.75 percent from 2008 to 2012.

Data from the past 12 years indicate that about 60 percent of the center’s clients are undergraduate students (primarily second year and beyond), and 40 percent are graduate students.

See Something, Say Something

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, more than 4,000 people aged 15 to 24 die by suicide each year in the United States. So if you sense a student is troubled, it’s better to trust your instinct than do nothing.

“You are the eyes and ears for us,” said John Stein, dean of students.

Faculty and staff members have two options when they feel concerned about a student. The first is to speak with a student one-on-one.

“I remember being concerned that a student was considering suicide, but I was hesitant to ask the student if this was the case,” said Joyce Weisenheimer, deputy director of CETL. “When I finally got up the nerve to ask, the student didn’t hesitate before saying ‘yes.’ Sometimes, we have to get over our own reticence and just ask students if they’re OK.”

The other option is to send a referral via the Dean of Students website.

During the discussion, Stein shared a few examples of referrals he has received, ranging from one from a faculty member who had learned that a student’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to connect the student with some resources, to another from a faculty member who was concerned about a student’s continued absence from class.

And Stein pointed out that the faculty or staff member isn’t required to tell the student about the referral.

“I see all referrals, and if you want to remain anonymous, I will respect that,” Stein said. “We are here to help you, so if you ever have any sort of concern or question, let us know.”

Other Campus Resources

For faculty and staff members who would like to learn more about the signs to look for and strategies for assisting troubled students, here are campus resources to be aware of:

For More Information Contact

Amelia Pavlik
Institute Communications
404-385-4142