Parents and guardians continue to play a vital role in the lives of their college-aged student.
You probably know your student better than anyone else does, so you will likely notice changes in mood or behavior that may indicate emotional or psychological distress. Since students tend to turn to their parents when it comes to making important decisions, your suggestion to consider counseling can be very influential. This section is designed to help you to do the following:
- Become familiar with signs that indicate your student is having difficulties of an emotional or psychological nature.
- Learn how to respond effectively when your student approaches you with problems.
- Learn the steps for making an effective referral.
Signs of Distress
When a young person leaves for college, it is natural for them to experience changes in behavior, mood, and values. While these changes may lead to occasional disagreements or some temporary discomfort within the family, they are not necessarily signs that a student is having a psychological problem. However, the behaviors listed below may indicate cause for concern.
Changes in Academic Performance
- Poor academic performance, particularly if such behavior represents a change from the past
- Excessive absences from class
- Confusion or uncertainty about interests, abilities, or values
- Listlessness, lack of energy, complaints about fatigue
- Marked changes in personal hygiene
- Impaired speech or disjointed, confused thoughts
- Aggressive or threatening behavior
- Extreme mood changes or inappropriate displays of emotions
- Excessive crying
- Dramatic weight loss or gain
- Preoccupation with food or body image
- Bizarre behavior indicating a loss of contact with reality
Changes in Relationships
- Death of a family member or close friend
- Difficulties in romantic relationships
- Problems with family members, friends, or roommates
References to Suicide
- Overt references to suicide or statements of hopelessness or helplessness
- Indications of prolonged unhappiness
- Pessimism about the future
Guidelines for Responding
- Talk to your student as soon as you notice something unusual; don’t ignore atypical or disturbing behavior.
- Express your concern in a caring manner and indicate the specific behaviors that are causing you to worry.
- Use “I” language that focuses on what you have noticed or what you are feeling.
- Talk to your student in private when you both have enough time for a conversation.
- Don’t bring up your concerns in the heat of an argument.
- Listen attentively, observing nonverbal as well as verbal responses.
- Avoid being critical or judgmental.
- Encourage positive action by helping your student define the problem and possible ways of handling it; avoid the temptation to solve the problem for them.
- Ask directly how you can best help.
- Know your limits as a help-giver. Parents can do a lot, but sometimes professional help is needed.
- Be a positive role model by seeking help for yourself.
- Support your student in developing and maintaining healthy behaviors to help them THRIVE during their time at college and beyond.
Making a Referral
Some students may be initially hesitant about seeking counseling. When you have decided that professional counseling is indicated, tell your student directly and clearly why you are making the referral.
Short-term counseling is provided to all students enrolled in a degree program. If a student has difficulties that need more frequent and/or longer-term counseling to address adequately, we may suggest other resources that would be more appropriate.
All Counseling Center staff members have experience helping students with a wide range of concerns. Although we will do our best to honor a student’s preference to see a specific counselor, it may result in a longer wait time; therefore, it is preferable to refer students to the Counseling Center rather than to a specific counselor. You are welcome to call the Center and let us know that you have referred your student.
- Review information about the counseling process with your student using the Counseling Center website. Emphasize that services are confidential and free.
- You might suggest that your student attend one session before judging whether counseling is helpful or not. For those students who are hesitant, point out that using appropriate resources is a sign of strength and maturity.
- Except in the case of imminent danger to self or others, it is important to allow your student to refuse counseling. Just because they might not follow through immediately doesn’t mean that the suggestions aren’t being considered.
- While it is preferable for your student to take the step of making an appointment on their own, the counseling staff are willing to speak with parents about how to encourage the student to do so.
- Drop-in consultations are available each day between 10am-11:30am & 1pm-3:30pm; students are seen on a first come, first served basis for up to 30 minutes. Drop-in consults are ideal for students who have a pressing or time-sensitive concern who are not ready or interested in ongoing counseling.
Asking about Suicide
Asking your student whether they are thinking about suicide can feel uncomfortable and even frightening. You cannot increase someone’s risk of ending their life just by bringing up the topic. Research shows that acknowledging and talking about suicide might actually reduce suicidal thoughts. Many students feel very relieved when someone realizes they are hurting so much that they are having thoughts about not wanting to be alive. Even though someone might be thinking about suicide, it doesn’t mean they have a clear plan. The opportunity to have a conversation with a caring and supportive person can significantly reduce the risk that a student will actually harm themselves.
Signs a student might be considering suicide include:
- Expressions of hopelessness about the future, or being able to change or improve
- Expressions of being a burden to friends, family, the college
- Difficulty connecting with others
- Physical signs that they have cut or injured themselves
- Giving away possessions
- Talking about “if/when I’m gone….”
- Detaching from responsibilities and routine
Events associated with increased risk include:
- Death of a family member or close friend
- Sudden breakup in a relationship
- Problems with family members, friends, or roommates
- Experiencing or causing an accident
- Getting arrested or doing something about which one is deeply ashamed
- Diagnosis of a serious illness
- Academic setbacks
Responding to Concerns about Suicide
If you have ANY concern that your student might be experiencing suicidal thoughts, you should ask them directly about your concerns.
- Here are some ways you can ask:
- Sometimes when people are experiencing very difficult situations, they may have thoughts of suicide; have you?
- Do things ever get so bad that you have thoughts of wanting to die?
- Are you thinking about ending your life?
- If they say yes, you can ask:
- Have you thought about how you would end your life?
- Do you have the means to follow through?
- Focus on listening, express appreciation for their honesty with you and acknowledge the courage this may have taken. Clearly communicate your desire to help them through this experience.
- If your student indicates they are currently thinking seriously about ending their life, let them know there are many resources that can help. During regular business hours, advise them to go to the Counseling Center. Contact the Counseling Center at 610.330.5005 to consult with a counselor.
- After business hours, call 610.330.5005 to speak with a crisis support counselor. The crisis counselor will conduct an assessment with your student over the phone to determine next steps. *Calls are routed based upon risk, so it is important to disclose any safety concerns when the call is answered.
- Always call Public Safety 610.330.4444 for assistance if a student is indicating that they are in imminent danger of harming themselves.
- Consider these steps you can take to help your student stay safe in the event of suicidal crisis.
The Counseling Center staff members are required by law and by professional ethics to protect the confidentiality of all contacts with students. The only exceptions occur in cases of imminent danger to self or others, reports of child abuse, or a court order. Without a student’s written permission, we cannot discuss the content of counseling sessions or the fact that they are a client of the Counseling Center. These requirements are in effect even when a parent has made the original referral to the Center. However, as long as we have a student’s permission, we are more than happy to speak with parents about their concerns.
If you have any questions about the services offered by the Center, please feel free to call (610) 330-5005 and request to speak with a counselor.
Crisis Support Services
When the Counseling Center is closed, after-hours crisis support is available by calling 610.330.5005. The College works with ProtoCall Services to provide crisis support and referrals.
Please note: If you think your student is in imminent danger of harming themselves or someone else, please call the Office of Public Safety at 610.330.4444.
Local Behavioral Health Hospital:
Emergency Room at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Muhlenberg (610) 402-8000
2545 Schoenersville Road, Bethlehem, PA 18017
Togetherall is a peer-to-peer mental health community that empowers students to anonymously seek and provide support. This online resource is moderated by mental health professionals and offers a safe space for students connect with others experiencing similar feelings 24/7, 365 days a year. Togetherall also offers journaling, goal-setting and self-assessment tools, in addition to a wide range of self-guided courses to help support student mental health and well-being.
For those students who wish to seek counseling from an off-campus mental health professional, we offer referral consultations to help students locate treatment providers in the Lehigh Valley.
Students who are interested in receiving an evaluation for medication are encouraged to consult with the physicians in the Bailey Health Center who coordinate appointments with a consulting psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse practitioner (610.330.5001).