For Faculty and Staff

The PSU Counseling Center offers a wide range of educational and support programs designed to foster students’ development as healthy, thoughtful, responsible, respectful and productive members of the community. In particular, the Counseling Center provides assistance to students who may be experiencing emotional difficulties which interfere with their learning.

How Do I Know If A Student Is In Trouble?

As a member of the PSU faculty or staff, you may find yourself in a position to observe and recognize changes in students which signal psychological distress. Faculty and staff members observe individual students’ behaviors, interactions with others, and progress or lack of progress in school. You are often the first, or only person, to notice when a student begins to display signs of a problem. This is not to imply that you are to be a “watch dog,” but that students often seek out faculty and staff to share their distress. Recognizing these distress signals and having some guidelines for dealing with distressed students can assist you in making appropriate referrals and recommendations.

The following are some commons signs of basic psychological distress or indicators that students are having a problem with alcohol or drug use.

  • A drop in class attendance
  • Coming late to class or sleeping in class
  • A generally sad or tense appearance
  • Inappropriate responses such as talking off the subject or rambling
  • Appearing to be hung over
  • Having a strong odor of marijuana or alcohol


It is normal to get depressed from time to time. A student who shares a concern about an inability to concentrate, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, a decrease in social activity, or a decrease in grades may be experiencing something more serious.

Unusual Acting Out

Acting out would represent a change in behavior from normal, socially-appropriate behavior and might include being disruptive or overly antagonistic. It may also include increased alcohol or drug use.

Suicidal Ideation

Any message that indicates a person “wishes they weren’t there” should be taken seriously. Often students who are feeling suicidal will talk about death or express suicidal feelings in papers or journals.

Example One:

A student comes into your office and begins to describe problems that are interfering with his/her academic work. What could you do? At a break in the conversation, you might say: “It sounds as though you have been under stress, aren’t doing very well and need to talk to someone about this. What do you think about that?” It might be helpful for you to call someone at the Counseling Center and help the student go through the process of making an appointment.

Example Two:

A student misses classes on Mondays and Fridays, looks disheveled and may occasionally smell like alcohol or pot. What should you do? Contact the Counseling Center to express your concern and discuss ways to intervene. Often, if a student knows someone noticed, it will change his/her behavior.

How to Make a Referral

It is important that you know your personal limits as a helper. You may not feel comfortable trying to help students cope with their problems. Your best course of action probably lies in helping them get to a place that can provide the most helpful services. To do this you can:

  • Reinforce the person confiding in you; acknowledge their hurting.
  • Be accepting and non-judgmental.
  • Try to identify the problem area.
  • Indicate in a gentle but direct manner that professional assistance is the positive step that is needed to deal with the pain and that you will assist them in finding competent professionals.

    Suggesting the Referral

    • Confer with a counselor and gather information on resources specific to your concern.
    • Choose a private time and place to meet.
    • Tell the student that you are concerned by the things you are seeing (be careful not to diagnose).
    • Describe the behavior you have seen – be specific about the time and place.
    • Express concern over the behavior.
    • Outline what you would like to see.

    Making the Referral

    Options for referring the student include:

    • Calling and asking to walk the student over immediately.
    • Calling and asking to send the student over immediately.
    • Giving the student the name of a counselor to contact.

    For more information or consultation

    Call us at (603) 535-2461