A student’s life can be stressful. As a student, faculty, staff member, or family member you may recognize a fellow Commodore in distress who may benefit from wellness support and professional resources.
We recommend the following process to help a student in distress:
You may also submit a Student of Concern Form at any time.
Early detection and intervention is important. Identify a student who may be in distress by noticing changes in performance, behavior, or demeanor. A combination of several changes is most likely to indicate that a student is in distress.
Academic performance changes, such as:
- Declining grades or reduced class participation
- Incomplete or missing assignments
- Repeated requests for extensions, incompletes, or withdrawals
- Increased absenteeism or tardiness
- Disruptive classroom behavior
- Apparent memory loss or difficulty concentrating
- Poor organization skills or trouble with note taking
- Bizarre, aggressive, or morbid comments or written content
- Chronic fatigue, falling asleep in class
Physical changes, such as:
- Poor or declining physical appearance, hygiene, and grooming
- Signs of intoxication, dilated or constricted pupils, or apparent hangovers
- Extreme fluctuations in weight
Behavioral changes, such as:
- Expressions of feeling hopeless, helpless, guilty and/or worthless
- Nervousness, fearfulness, or tearfulness
- Inflated sense of self-importance and exaggerated behavior
- Suspected alcohol or drug use
- Erratic behavior, sudden mood swings, inappropriate anger, hostility, and irritability
- Withdrawal from others or loss of pleasure in everyday activities
- Social media posts related to mental and emotional wellness
- Talk of suicide or harm to self or others
Experiencing triggering events, such as:
- breakup in a relationship
- incident of sexual assault or an abusive relationship
- academic failure
- facing University or legal sanctions
- death of a loved one
For more specific warning signs that someone may be contemplating suicide, visit the MAPS (Suicide Prevention) website.
Once you have identified a student who may be in distress, approach the student to offer support. If they need immediate assistance, please refer to the “In Case of Immediate Crisis” section above. There is no one right way to initiate this conversation, however, the below steps are known best practices.
Respect their privacy.
- Choose a place where you may talk quietly without interruption at a time convenient for you both.
- Be honest and focus on the specific signs that alerted you to a possible problem.
- Remain calm, compassionate, and willing to listen. o Use language that is non-judgmental and specific, such as “I noted that [indicate change in behavior that raised concern.]”
- If you suspect suicidal ideation, do not be afraid to ask if they are considering suicide. This is a scary question to ask, but many research studies have shown that asking the question does not increase the risk of suicide.
- Asking open-ended questions may elicit a response, such as “How are things going?”
- Avoid “yes” or “no” questions.
Offer support and listen.
- Convey your willingness to help.
- Be aware that the student could respond in a variety of ways. Don’t interpret negative, indifferent, or hostile responses as a wasted effort. A decision to seek help often takes time.
- Reflect back to the student what you hear to indicate you are listening.
- Do not promise confidentiality. If a student asks you to keep something confidential, gently pause the conversation and tell them you may be able to keep some things confidential, but there are other things that you would need to take action on in order to keep the student or others safe. Refer the student to the list of confidential resources on campus.
Take care of yourself.
- Offering support to others can be challenging. You are not alone. Read below for how to refer a student to the Office of Student Care Coordination, and for how to submit a Student of Concern Form. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Visit the Student Care Network website for the health and wellness resources available to you.
Vanderbilt’s Office of Student Care Coordination (OSCC) is a central point of intake for students to be referred to the best resources to meet their specific needs.
- Encourage the student to visit the Office of Student Care Coordination website to complete an online assessment or provide the phone number – (615) 343- WELL (9355) – to schedule an appointment. You may offer to help the student complete this assessment, help them make the initial phone call, or walk with the student to the OSCC during their office hours. Or, if appropriate, ask for an agreement with the student to make an appointment with the OSCC by a certain date, and follow-up with the student. The Office of Student Care Coordination will ensure the student receives the appropriate support for the specific challenges they are facing.
- The student may also benefit from browsing the Student Care Network website on their own time to learn more about health and wellness resources available to them.
- Keep communication open by telling the student you are always willing to listen. Continue to follow-up as appropriate by asking questions such as “How have you been?”
Submit a Student of Concern Form
Faculty, staff, students, community members, and family members can report their concerns pertaining to the personal, physical, or emotional wellbeing of a student using the Student of Concern Form. This form is not designed to be an emergency response notification. Students needing immediate assistance should refer to the “In Case of Immediate Crisis” section above.
When should I submit a Student of Concern Form?
You should submit a Student of Concern Form if you identify a student who is exhibiting concerning behavior related to their personal, physical, or emotional wellbeing and:
- You would like someone else to be aware of the issue;
- You believe the student needs immediate follow-up;
- You believe the student needs ongoing support;
- You have updated information about a previous report you filed; or
- You want advice on how to interact with or support the student.
If you are unsure whether you should submit a report, please contact the Office of Student Care Coordination at (615) 343-WELL (9355).
You may share with the student that you are submitting a form to help them find support, or you may submit an anonymous form.
What happens once a form has been submitted?
Once a Student of Concern Form is submitted, appropriate staff in the Office of Student Care Coordination will review and assess the information in order to determine the best course of action for follow-up. Follow-up is individually tailored and, where possible, relationship-driven, and it may include a staff member reaching out to the student directly and working with the student on a success plan or appropriate referrals. A staff member may contact the reporting party for additional information. A reporting party may not receive any specific follow-up information due to privacy laws and regulations.
Resources & Training
The Student Care Network encourages all students, faculty, and staff to consider additional trainings modules to increase confidence in identifying students in distress and referring them to support services. The following training opportunities are available:
Kognito at Risk is an online interactive program that engages learners in simulated conversations with virtual, fully animated students who show signs of depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide.
MAPS is a joint training initiative between the Center for Student Wellbeing and the University Counseling Center designed to prevent suicide in the campus community while promoting mental health awareness.
Faculty/Staff – Specific Trainings
*Trainings do not need to be taken in succession.:
- In this INTRODUCTION to Supporting Student Mental Health (Level 1), Student Care Network staff share important information about brief assessment of student concerns, using the Student of Concern Report, and how to best connect students to available resources within the Student Care Network. Duration: 15-20 minutes.
- A deeper dive into Supporting Student Mental Health with the Student Care Network (Level 2), Student Care Network staff explore the warning signs associated with mental health concerns and suicidal ideation, responding to students in distress or crisis, and resources within Vanderbilt’s Student Care Network that are available to support students. Participants will practice asking if a student is considering suicide, gain a better understanding about using the Student of Concern Report, and receive additional tools that can help guide next steps and offer resources to support student mental health. Participants of this presentation will receive a physical acknowledgement (sticker/door hangtag) to display their support of student mental health. We recommend completing Kognito: At-Risk to prepare for this training. Duration: 2 hours
- Mental Health Awareness and the Prevention of Suicide (MAPS) (Level 3) is a Vanderbilt University joint initiative with the University Counseling Center (UCC) and the Center for Student Wellbeing (CSW) designed to prevent suicide in the campus community while promoting mental health awareness. In this two-hour session, participants have the opportunity to learn more about suicide statistics, warning signs, risk factors, and suicide myths. Throughout the training, participants are invited to join in experiential exercises designed to increase understanding of individuals in crisis and to assist in identifying students in need, engaging a student who may be depressed, angry, hopeless, or withdrawn, and providing referrals to campus and community resources. To increase your comfort in a potential crisis, participants will have the opportunity to practice these newly acquired skills in multiple role plays facilitated by UCC and CSW trainers. Duration: 2 hours
The Office of Student Care Coordination, Center for Student Wellbeing, and University Counseling Center gladly accept requests submitted by student organizations, staff and faculty for presentations, trainings and workshops on the Student Care Network, responding to students in distress, and various other topics as they relate to student wellness.
College & School Liaisons and Deans
Each school or college has a designated point of contact who works with the Office of Student Care Coordination to assist faculty and staff in helping students get the support they need.
- A&S – Carrie Russell, Assistant Dean • 615-322-2844
- Blair – Melissa Rose, Associate Dean • 615-322-7693
- Divinity – Ellen Armour, Assistant Dean for Student Life • 615-343-5749
- Engineering – Adam McKeever-Burgett, Assistant Dean for Academic Services • 615-343-3773
- Graduate School –Stacey Satchell, Academic Life Coach • 615-343-5835
- Law – Chris Meyers, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs • 615-343-5807
- Medical – Amy Fleming, Associate Dean • 615-936-0257
- Nursing – Tamika Hudson, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs • 615-343-3334
- Owen – Sarah Rigsby, Assistant Director, Student Life • 615-322-4722
- Peabody – Anita Wager, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Academic Affairs • 615-343-5898