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Distressing Behavior Action Plan

If you’ve noticed any distressing behaviors (as outlined in the Distressing Behavior section) in a student, the first step is to determine the possible severity of the issue. Once a level of concern is identified you can decide how best to respond. Appropriate action steps will vary on a case-by-case basis but should always include validation of students’ feelings and referral to campus resources. When an instructor is unsure of what action plan to take, consider consulting with other offices on campus aimed at supporting students (see Network of Support).

Identify Level of Concern:

1. Lower concern – oftentimes a brief episode and/or situational (i.e., upset because of a breakup or failed an exam). Having a low impact on the student’s course performance and/or other students’ classroom experience.

2. Moderate concern – multifaceted issue; significant and long-lasting change in behavior which is impacting the student’s ability to be successful in the course.

3. Heightened concern – dramatic and sharp change in behavior which may be impacting other students and/or you are worried about the potential safety of this individual (i.e., talking about completing suicide.)

Action Steps:

Providing support is an important step in the process regardless of the level of concern. Once you identify a concern level, you can decide how best to respond. Keep in mind that every situation will be different, and your response should be based on the context of the situation and your comfort level in dealing with the issue.

For lower or moderate level concerns, a direct conversation with the student allows for future dialogue should your concern continue or escalate, as well as to promote help-seeking from the student.

The following suggestions can help facilitate a productive conversation:

1. Find a private and comfortable place to talk, preferably during faculty office hours. If you’re concerned about your own safety, don’t meet with the student alone. For ways to address your safety concerns, see the section on threatening behavior.

2. Set aside adequate time for the discussion so you’re not rushed or preoccupied.

3. Be calm. Stay relaxed. Pay attention to your demeanor and tone of voice.

4. Listen carefully and attentively.

5. If you initiate the discussion, be as specific as possible about the behaviors that concern you.

Provide examples of your observations in a direct, non-judgmental way (examples below).

a. “I notice that you are fidgeting in class, talking to those around you and seem to be frustrated,” or “I’ve notice a dramatic shift in your coursework and you seem to be withdrawn and distant during class,” or “I noticed you have missed several classes. Is there something impacting your ability to attend class?”

b. “College can be really challenging, especially when things at home, our health, or our relationships with others are not going well. I heard about [x behavior/event] and I’m concerned it may be affecting your ability to be successful. How do you think it is affecting you?”

c. “You are probably wondering why I asked to meet with you. I want to assure you that you are not in trouble, but I am concerned about you because of [x behavior]. Can you help me understand what’s going on for you right now?”

6. Express interest, care and concern. Remember that although what is being shared may not seem like a crisis to you, the student may feel like they are in crisis.

7. Be direct about the limits of your ability to assist in the given situation. Help explore available options and the cost and benefit of each option. Remember that even if you think the person should seek professional help, it’s ultimately that person’s choice.

8. If you are unable to have a face-to-face conversation, these responses can also be carefully communicated via email. See Email Communications for example emails to students.

Heightened Concern

1. If you are concerned for the immediate safety of the student contact 911.

2. Consider consulting with University Health Services, Office of the Dean of Students or alerting the CARE team (see campus resource information) for help assessing the seriousness of the situation.