Agitation, increased irritability, aggression and heightened anxiety are all behaviors that indicate a student may be experiencing a mental health problem. With the difficult economic situation, ever demanding class schedules, and additional family or emotional concerns, stress can easily overcome students.
This is the third year Patricia Whitely, vice president for student affairs, sent a letter to the university’s faculty and staff advising them to be aware of student stress levels and how to intervene if a student is in distress. The letter sent Sept. 15 addresses that the faculty and staff are often the first to observe disturbances in a student’s behavior. In the letter, Whitely recommends that professors involve themselves to the extent that there is a satisfactory student-teacher relationship in order to comfortably speak directly to the student whenever there are concerns.
“The faculty is on the frontline with all students, often they see them before we ever do,” said Dr. Pamela Deroian, director of the University of Miami Counseling Center. “The faculty is very responsive and sensitive to these issues.”
Junior Tony Shamoun also felt that professors should be aware of students’ stress levels so that all students can receive the attention they need.
“My teachers are there to help me, even if it would be a little awkward for them to speak directly with me if they had a concern. At least they can provide suggestions and ways for me to cope,” Shamoun said.
Another student added that direct intervention from a professor would be uncomfortable, but that sometimes it might be necessary.
“If a teacher is concerned and talks to me privately outside of class, I would be okay with that,” sophomore Elektra Burgos said.
Whitely stressed the importance of having an educated and knowledgeable faculty regarding stress levels so that students’ behaviors can be properly addressed.
“We want the faculty to have the resources and knowledge available to them so they can refer the student to the correct social center or service,” she said.
The Counseling Center on campus is often the first resource to address these concerns. The center provides career, academic counseling, short-term psychotherapy and same-day counseling during a crisis.
“Sometimes students just need to talk and get their thoughts out. Other times we counsel depending on how the student experiences the stress, whether that means cognitively, behaviorally or through physiological reactions like muscle tension and breathing difficulties,” Deroian said.
In addition to concerns regarding academics or the recession, Whitely said that the university community is also on the lookout for students showing signs of erratic behavior. She particularly cited the situation that occurred at Virginia Tech in April 2007 as a reason for faculty, staff and peers to be observant of students that may require additional assistance and attention.
“If the faculty believes that a student is a threat to himself or other students, we want the teacher to feel comfortable referring them to the appropriate center,” Whitely said. “From there, we discuss if this student should be at the institution right now. ‘Do they need to take a year off? Can they handle the stress that accompanies attending university?’”
She said that, above all, the administration and faculty as a whole want to help students finish their degrees and be successful at the university.
“We are always available- myself, the whole faculty. We want students to know that they can come to us for support and we can lead them in the right direction,” Whitely said.