CMHS offers consultation with our clinicians to assist family, friends, faculty, staff, and others on campus in their support of students. Examples of consultation activities include:
- Providing information on campus and community mental health resources
- Working with faculty and staff in teaching students positive mental health practices. For groups, we offer workshops and trainings
- Crisis response and planning strategies to avert a potential crisis
- Supporting students experiencing grief/loss
- Managing group conflict
All contacts with Student Health Services/Counseling & Mental Health Services are strictly confidential in accordance with Connecticut state privacy laws. Records are not available to individuals or agencies, either on or off campus, without a student’s specific written permission. CMHS records are kept separately from medical records but are available to Student Health Services providers on a need-to-know basis. Copies of psychiatric medication prescriptions, laboratory reports, and a notation that there is a CMHS record are in the Student Health Services medical record. By law and by professional codes of ethics, confidentiality is only broken by a therapist when 1) the student is in imminent danger of harm to self or others 2) a therapist suspects abuse or neglect of a child under the age of 18 or other dependent or 3) a court orders a record. Even in these cases, we will try our best to work with the student in communicating this information to other parties. In accordance with university policy, CMHS records are destroyed after seven years.
Even within the limits of confidentiality, we strive to partner with our greater UConn community. If you have information you feel is important to let us know, we encourage you to call with the understanding that what you share with us can be shared with the student. We are also glad to speak with you in hypotheticals to give you the best idea of what typically happens with students seeking mental health services.
How to identify if a student needs counseling:
College is a period of transition and development for students, which comes with both positive emotions as well as times of stress. Below are some common signs that students may be experiencing high levels of distress and might benefit from speaking with a CMHS counselor.
- Feeling an overwhelming and prolonged sense of sadness and helplessness about their futures
- Exhibiting signs of emotional distress: signs of anxiety, depression, unmanageable anger
- Emotional difficulties which make it hard for them to function day to day, signs that they are unable to care for themselves
- Adjustment difficulties
- A stress level that raises concern
- Excessive worries
- Notably elevated or decreased mood
- Suspected abuse of alcohol and/or drugs
- Notable irritability, disruptive behaviors and peer conflicts
- Fatigue and social withdrawal
- Threatening and/or aggressive behavior to self and/or others
- Indications of self-destructive thoughts (verbalized, written)
- Any significant change in a student’s behavior, appearance or demeanor
- Any signs of self-harming behaviors (cutting or burning themselves)
- If there is any concern that the student is struggling with thoughts of suicide or thoughts of harming others, please contact the CMHS On-Call service immediately by calling 860-486-4705
How to help a student seek support at CMHS:
If the student you are concerned about is not able to call CMHS independently, we recommend encouraging them to call together with you or that you walk them over to CMHS during business hours. Many students have never spoken to someone about their mental health before, and appreciate your support in facilitating their first contact with our office. Of course, if you have concerns about a student’s safety, please immediately contact our On-Call service or the UConn Police. If a student is not an imminent risk, and is refusing your support in contacting our office, you may also consider contacting the UConn Student CARE Team. The Student Care Team is a multidisciplinary team that meets regularly to evaluate behaviors by University students that are perceived to be threatening, harming or disruptive to the student, to others or to both and coordinate an appropriate response.
Responding After a Tragedy:
An In-The-Classroom Guide
UConn is committed to caring for our students. This is never truer than when tragedy strikes. Be it national disasters such as 9/11 or Virginia Tech or local tragedies such as suicide or car accident involving our students, faculty, staff, and administration of the campus community are here to help.
For those of us who have contact with students in the classroom you may wish to help students through these events by providing time for discussions. When should these discussions occur? It is probably best to consider a discussion within a week of the tragic event.
Even if you prefer not to provide discussion time during class it is probably best to acknowledge the event. A national or local tragedy can result in students having difficulty with focus, concentration, and motivation. Failure to mention the event can result in students becoming more upset or angry. If you choose not to devote discussion time to the event, you might mention to students that there are resources on and off campus where they can obtain support:
- Residential Life – For students who live on campus, the RAs (resident assistants) and Residential Life Administration, are well trained to deal with many types of crisis situations.
- Counseling & Mental Health Services (CMHS) – Any student who is having a difficult time dealing with a tragic event should be encouraged to call us at 860.486.4705. We have therapists available throughout the day, Monday – Friday, 8:30am to 4:30pm as well as 24/7 on-call.
- Dean of Students Office – Students are well served by the helping and caring staff of the Dean of Students Office. When tragic events effect one’s ability to manage school work, the Dean of Students Office can provide helpful assistance and support to students to make their best decisions concerning their academia.
If you do decide to provide an opportunity for discussion in your classroom, here are some important considerations.
- Discussion can be brief. Consider providing an opportunity at the beginning of the class period. Often, a short time period is more effective than a whole class period. This serves the purpose of acknowledging that students may be reacting to a recent event, without pressuring students to speak. You can even consider stating ahead of time, if appropriate to the circumstance, that time will be made available at the next class for discussion so students can plan ahead.
- Acknowledge the event. Introduce the opportunity by briefly acknowledging the tragic event, and suggesting that it might be helpful to share personal reactions students may have.
- Allow brief discussion of the “facts,” and then shift to emotions. Often the discussion starts with students asking questions about what actually happened and debating certain details. People are often more comfortable discussing facts than feelings. So, it’s best to allow this exchange for a brief of time. After facts have been exchanged, you can try to shift the discussion toward sharing personal and emotional reactions. If you are not aware of the facts, consider inviting someone into the class to provide this information from CMHS, OSSA, Police, or other campus office.
- Invite students to share emotional, personal responses. You might lead off by saying, “Often it is helpful to share your own feelings and hear how others are responding. It doesn’t change the reality of what’s happened, but it may take away from the sense of loneliness that sometimes accompanies stressful or traumatic events. I would be grateful for whatever you are willing to share.”
- If students begin “debating” the “right way” to react to a tragedy, it may be important to point out that we all cope with stress and trauma in different ways. There is no right way to react.
- Be prepared for blaming. When we are upset and confused, we often look for someone or something to blame. Essentially, this is a displacement of the strong emotion we are feeling. Attributing blame is a way of coping. The idea is that if someone did something wrong, then future tragedies can be avoided by doing things right. If the discussion gets stuck in blaming, you may try to move the discussion forward by saying, “we have been focusing on our sense of anger and blame, and while that is a normal part of this process, it might be helpful to move on to other thoughts and feelings you may be having”.
- It is normal for people to seek an explanation for why the tragedy occurred. Through understanding, we seek to reassure ourselves that a similar event could be avoided or prevented in the future. We might comment, “As human beings it is in our nature to seek a deeper understanding of traumatic events. It is a challenge to understand an unthinkable event. By their very natures, tragedies are especially difficult to explain. Uncertainty is particularly distressing, but sometimes necessary”. As faculty members we should resist the temptation to make meaning of the event. This is often not helpful as it interferes with a person’s natural process to derive their own meaning which is filtered through their own life experiences as well as their culture, gender and belief systems.
- Thank students for sharing, and remind them of resources on campus. In ending the discussion, it useful to comment that people cope in a variety of ways. If a student would benefit from a one-on-one discussion, encourage them to make use of the support services available to them as noted above.