Sometimes life at Boston University can be stressful for students as they face the challenge of a highly competitive academic environment and begin to assume a variety of roles and responsibilities.
As part of the greater University community, the team at Behavioral Medicine helps by providing consultation and support. Specifically we aim to educate the community in how to identify students in distress and crisis, and encourage them to access the appropriate resources. If you find yourself trying to figure out next steps to support a student or if you have a more immediate concern, you are welcome to call our office to speak with a clinician, for a brief consultation.
Demonstrating empathy and willingness to support a friend or student is an important part of building our strong community. Around campus—in residence and dining halls, classrooms, and groups—faculty, staff, and students may witness early signs of distress in others. Students often seek initial assistance from other students, faculty, and staff because they perceive them to be available and willing to listen.
Identifying Students in Distress and Crisis
Individuals dealing with personal issues or problems tend to show signs that they are struggling in some way. Many students may experience low mood or anxiety. However, when symptoms of distress are persistent over a long period of time or when they interfere with academic responsibilities and social relationships, it may be a cause for concern. Following is a list of signs that may indicate that a student is struggling:
Physical or Psychological Signs
- Excessive anxiety or panic
- Apathy, lack of energy, a change in sleeping or eating habits, or dramatic weight gain or loss
- Marked changes in personal hygiene, work habits, or social behavior
- Unusual mood elevation
- Isolation or withdrawal
- Expressing suicidal thoughts, such as referring to suicide as a current option
- Giving away treasured personal possessions
- Increased irritability or aggressive behavior
- Bizarre thinking, seemingly at odds with the reality of the situation (such as unjustified paranoid ideas)
- Excessive use of alcohol or other drugs
- Deterioration in quality of work
- Missed assignments or appointments
- Repeated absence from class or lab
- Continual requests for unusual accommodations (late papers, extensions, postponed exams, etc.)
- Essays or papers that have themes of hopelessness, social isolation, rage, or despair
- Lack of engagement in participation-oriented classes or with lab mates
- Inappropriate disruptions or monopolizing classroom time
Other Factors to Consider
- Direct statements indicating family problems, personal losses such as death of a family member, or the break-up of a relationship
- Expressions of concern about a student by their peers
- Written note or verbal statement that has a sense of hopelessness or finality
- Your sense, however vague, that something is seriously amiss
What is a Crisis?
A crisis is a situation in which an individual’s usual style of coping is no longer effective, and their emotional or physiological responses begin to escalate. As emotions intensify, coping becomes less effective, until the person can become disoriented, nonfunctional, or attempt harm. If a student is in a serious mental health crisis, you might see or hear the following:
- Suicidal statements, planning, or suicide attempts
- Written or verbal violence, or acting out violently
- Destruction of property or other criminal acts
- Extreme anxiety resulting in inability to speak or breathe
- Inability to communicate (e.g., garbled or slurred speech, disjointed thoughts)
- Loss of contact with reality (e.g., seeing or hearing things that aren’t there, expressing beliefs or actions at odds with reality)
What to Do If You Suspect a Serious Crisis
If you believe there may be imminent danger of harm to a student or someone else, as evidenced by these crisis symptoms, immediately call:
Boston University Police
Medical Center Public Safety
For psychiatric emergencies or or consultation, Behavioral Medicine providers are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 617-353-3569.
For crises related to crime and interpersonal or sexual violence, Crisis Counselors are available through SARP, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 617-353-SARP(7277).
A contact list to help students in distress. Use this reference to help with a variety of situations students may experience.