For Faculty: Getting Help for Students

Faculty members may be the first college personnel to notice if a student is struggling with personal problems or mental health issues. The role of a faculty member is simply to:

  • Notice the signs that a student may be struggling.
  • If the situation is an emergency, get immediate help.
  • If the situation is not an emergency, talk to the student if you feel comfortable doing so. Listen, and if warranted, refer the student to others with the expertise and resources to help.
  • Share what you know with the Student Life Office, the Counseling Service, or use the Care Report to share your concerns.

Signs That a Student May be Struggling

Observable red flags suggesting that a student may be struggling and in need of help include:

  • Diminished attendance at classes, work, or co-curricular activities
  • Deteriorating academic performance
  • Changes in class participation
  • Disruptive classroom behavior
  • Withdrawal from others; spending lots of time alone
  • Signs of depression: low mood; irritability; frequent crying; changes in appetite and weight; changes in sleep; low energy and motivation; loss of interest in usually pleasurable activities; diminished concentration
  • Prolonged or very intense emotionality
  • Extreme mood changes
  • References to death or suicide; expressions of despair or hopelessness
  • Self-injury, such as cutting or burning
  • Signs of anxiety or agitation
  • Significantly heightened or extreme activity level
  • Poor coping and problem solving skills
  • Marked distrust of most other people; paranoia
  • Behavior that is a clear change from what is typical for the student
  • Conversations that do not make sense; signs that the student is not in good contact with reality
  • Angry, threatening, or aggressive behavior
  • Talk about physically harming someone else and/or references to violence, death, or destruction
  • Marked lack of interpersonal skills and related social isolation
  • Significant decline in personal hygiene
  • Tension headaches, changes in eating patterns, sleep disturbances, fatigue, stomachaches, and other physical pain symptoms
  • Signs of substance abuse
  • Seriously restricted food intake; binging and vomiting; marked weight loss; excessive exercise; other signs of disordered eating

Apart from these signs, you may be aware that a student is troubled about a personal issue, is wrestling with an important decision, or has had a recent difficult experience, such as sexual assault, the end of a significant dating relationship, the death of a family member or friend, serious family problems, or a personal or family health crisis.

How to Respond

Emergency Situations

If the red flags you observe raise concerns about suicide or violence directed at others, you can review more specific information regarding suicide prevention  and violence prevention.

If a student is exhibiting one or more of the following signs, get emergency help:

  • Suicide attempt
  • Behaviors or statements suggesting thoughts of suicide
  • Behaviors or statements suggesting risk of violence toward others
  • Seriously diminished contact with reality
  • Major emotional distress not responsive to support
  • Recent sexual assault

Emergency help weekdays during business hours

  • If emergency medical or law enforcement help is needed, call 911.
  • In all other situations, call Counseling Service at (563) 387-1375.

Emergency help during night/weekend hours

  • If emergency medical or law enforcement help is needed, call 911.
  • In all situations, call Security at (563) 387-2111.

Non-Emergency Situations

Please visit the How to Help page to find suggestions for how to approach a student who is exhibiting one or more of the red flags for mental health issues. You will also find recommendations for how to make a referral to counseling. Visit the Services page to learn more about the resources for students at the Counseling Service, our confidentiality policy, and how a student may schedule a counseling appointment.

When a student is exhibiting one or more of the red flags suggesting mental health issues, it is usually advisable for a faculty member to share this information with at least one college office charged with responding to such situations. Even if the student reports that he or she is already involved in counseling or the student agrees to a counseling referral, it is still advisable for the faculty member to share what he or she knows about the student’s behavior and situation with one of the following college offices:

  • Student Life Office: Call Janet Hunter, Health Resources Advocate, or Corey Landstrom, Vice President and Dean for Student Life, at (563) 387-1020.
  • Counseling Service: Call (563) 387-1375 and ask to speak to any of the counselors.
  • Submit a Care Report to the Student Life Office.

FERPA Concerns

Faculty members sometimes have concerns about whether FERPA prevents them from sharing information about students with others on campus. This is not the case. FERPA allows faculty to share information about a student with other college faculty or staff members who have a legitimate educational use for the information. Appropriate uses can include academics, discipline, health, safety, and student welfare. In general, an appropriate purpose is one that helps the recipient of the information fulfill his or her professional responsibilities. You will not be violating FERPA if you follow the procedures outlined here for alerting other campus offices when a student appears to be struggling with personal problems or mental health issues.