After initiating a conversation with a student about whom you are concerned, listen to the student in a warm, accepting, non-judgmental way and express your concern for her or him. If you believe that it might be helpful for the student to be evaluated or to receive therapy by a mental health professional, suggest that she or he go to the Counseling Center.

Pose the Question

Rather than saying, "I think you need psychological help," you can frame the referral in terms of stress which for most students will feel more acceptable. For example, you could say "From what we've talked about, it sure sounds like you have been under a lot of stress. The Counseling Center here on campus has people who have been specifically trained to listen to students and help them deal with stress. I'd be willing to help you get an appointment. Would that be okay?" Assure the student that the Counseling Center services are free and confidential. Try to instill hope that the problems can be resolved.

Student Responses

  1. If the student says "Yes," call the Counseling Center at (949) 824-6457, let them receptionist know that you are with a student who would like to make an appointment. They will ask to speak with the student, and you can hand over the phone to let our office take care of the rest!

  2. Sometimes a student will say "No" to the referral or will say "I need to think about it." In these instances, please write down the Counseling Center’s phone number and say, "I hope you'll give this a try, at least once." Framing the appointment as a "one-time consultation" can sometimes reduce the stigma that is still associated with seeking help. We also always need to remember that counseling is a personal choice, except when the student is a danger to himself or to the lives of others. Not all students whom you approach out of concern for them will be receptive. However, for many students, your willingness to extend yourself in this way will be life-changing or even life-saving for them.

You may want to arrange a follow-up meeting with the student to solidify his or her resolve to seek help and to demonstrate your commitment to assist in the process. If an appointment was made, you may want to check with the student if the referral appointment was kept. However, keep in mind that students have the right to privacy regarding their mental health and treatment. The student may or may not want to share this information with you.

Disruptive Behavior

In some cases the student’s behavior not only presents concern about her or his welfare, but the behavior may also be disruptive to other students and be a violation of the student code of conduct. In these situations faculty and staff must be careful to not substitute addressing the welfare concern while forgiving the conduct violation concern. Whether the student takes part in treatment is up to the student. He or she can not be forced into treatment, so if the student elects to forgo treatment, you may miss an opportunity to monitor and provide administrative solutions to the conduct problem. Even if the student takes steps to remedy his or her situation with treatment, the administrative monitoring will provide documentation for the fact that the problem was indeed addressed. For a useful discussion of this topic see Coping with the Disruptive College Student: A Practical Model, Amada, Gerald, (1994, College Adminstration Publications, Inc.)

The Counseling Center has a brochure entitled “Faculty and Staff Role – Helping Emotionally Distressed Students.” You can request copies by phone or in person or download a copy here.