If Your Son or Daughter is in Emotional Distress: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers
Many college students encounter academic, personal, and social stress during their educational experience. Most students cope successfully with the demands of college life and the interpersonal experiences that go along with it, but for some students these difficulties can become overpowering and unmanageable.
Parents and caregivers are frequently in a position to identify when their daughter or son is in distress. Moreover, parents and caregivers are often perceived as a first point of contact in obtaining advice and support. Your expression of interest and concern may be critical in helping your son or daughter reestablish emotional equilibrium.
This guide is designed to assist you in helping your loved ones identify they are in emotional distress. UCS staff members are available to offer further consultation.
How Can You Tell if your Son or Daughter is Distressed?
At one time or another, everyone feels upset. However, when some of the following are present, your son or daughter is probably in distress:
- Noticeable decline in quality of school performance.
- Prolonged appearance of depression (e.g., sad expression, apathy, tearfulness, distractibility, sudden weight loss or gain).
- Nervousness, agitation, irritability, aggressiveness, non-stop talking.
- Bizarre behavior or speech.
- Extreme dependency on family, including exceptionally long/distressing phone calls or visits home.
- Marked change in personal hygiene
- Talk of suicide, either directly or indirectly.
- Comments in a student's letters or emails home that arouse concern.
Any one of the above signs present in someone does not absolutely indicate serious distress. Many disturbances during college are relatively transient. However, you may become alarmed by changes which are extreme or by significant changes that last longer than is typical. If there is doubt about the seriousness of the problem, consult a UCS staff member about evaluating the situation and taking the most appropriate steps.
What Can You Do To Help?
The options you choose depend upon the urgency of the situation. For students who are having difficulty but seem able to cope, you may choose not to intervene, or to deal with it on a more personal level. If you judge a situation to be more urgent, you might decide that more active and timely involvement on your part is appropriate. In proposing that your son or daughter seek out counseling services, it can be helpful for you to be well-informed about the suggestions you are offering.
General Information About the University Counseling Service
We are located at 3223 Westlawn (see MAP), the same building that Student Health is in, on the west side of the Iowa River. Our office is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., including over the Noon hour, Monday through Friday and our phone number is (319) 335-7294. For after hours emergencies, you can contact Public Safety at (319) 335-5022. We offer individual, couples, and group therapy as well as psychoeducational and outreach programs. Individual and couples therapy is most typically in a brief format, whereas group therapy may be available in a longer format. In addition to our regular therapy offerings, single-session consultation and crisis intervention appointments are also available for students. Testing and assessment for learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder is available on a limited basis. A variety of personality and career inventories are offered to students who request them. While our counseling services are offered at no direct cost to students, testing services do have a nominal fee attached.
Making a Referral to the Counseling Service
A referral for counseling can be made when you believe your student's problems go beyond your ability to help. A referral may be made either because of the way problems are interfering with academics or because you have been given information concerning personal behavior which raises concerns apart from academic work.
When you have decided that your daughter or son might benefit from counseling, it is usually best to express your recommendation in a matter-of-fact manner. Make it clear that this represents your best judgment based on your observations, information, and life experience. Be specific regarding the behavior that has raised your concerns and avoid attributing anything negative to the individual's character.
Except in an emergency, the option must be left open for her or him to accept or refuse counseling. If reluctance is expressed for any reason, simply express your acceptance of those feelings so that your relationship with him or her is not jeopardized. Give them room to consider alternatives by suggesting that maybe you can talk about it again after they have had some time to think it over.
If a conclusion is reached that counseling might be useful, there are several possible steps to take, depending on the urgency of the situation and how committed the student is to following through on the referral. You can give him or her information about the UCS and urge them to call for an appointment. Other options are to accompany them yourself or suggest that a trusted friend come along. The UCS staff would appreciate your calling ahead if someone is being brought over or sent directly in an emergency, so that plans can be made to have a counselor available.
In emergency situations involving students who are unwilling or unable to seek help on their own, you may call Public Safety (335-5022) if the urgency of the situation demands it. For any referral, whether the student accepts it or not, follow up with him or her later to show your continuing interest. If problems are brought up related to problems in the residence hall, you can also contact Residence Services.
What Happens at the UCS?
Once the student contacts the UCS, an appointment is made for an initial interview. This is usually within a few days from the time of contact, but can often happen the same day. In an emergency, the student will be seen that day.
Information forms are completed prior to the student being seen. During the first meeting, a counselor assesses the student's needs and ways the UCS may be able to help. Potential options include: a single consultation appointment with perhaps an additional follow-up meeting; ongoing brief individual counseling (several weekly 50-minute sessions; group counseling (weekly meetings with three to seven other students and one or two therapists); workshops; or referral to another agency on campus or in the community (typically for medication, open-ended therapy, and/or specialty treatment). Many students leave the initial appointment feeling able to handle their concerns without further assistance.
Counseling services provided at the UCS for University of Iowa students are free and confidential. Information is released only with a student's specific written permission. This means that a counselor cannot discuss the student's situation with anyone unless the student provides written permission. Exceptions to confidentiality may occur if there is clear danger to self or others or in the case of court-ordered subpoenas.
Consultation Is Available To You
If you have concerns and questions about your student, staff members at the UCS are available to help you:
- Assess the situation, its seriousness, and potential referral.
- Learn about resources, both on- and off-campus, so you can suggest the most appropriate help when talking with the student.
- Learn the best way to make a referral if appropriate.
- Clarify your own feelings about the situation and consider the ways you can be most effective.
Typical Counseling Concerns and Issues Presented by College Students
- Roommate Problems
- Depression & Anxiety
- Relationship Problems
- Academic Concerns
- Ethnic/Racial Identity
- Eating Disorders
- Sleep Problems
- Sexual Identity
- Career Decision Making
- Grief Issues
- General Personal Concerns
|Academic Advising Center||(319) 353-5700|
|Crisis Center||(319) 351-0140|
|Public Safety||(319) 335-5022|
|Rape Victim Advocacy Program||(319) 335-6001|
|Student Disability Services||(319) 335-1462|
|Student Health Service/Health Iowa||(319) 335-8370|
|University Counseling Service||(319) 335-7294|
|University Housing||(319) 335-3000|
|University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Emergency Room||(319) 356-2233|
|Vice-President for Student Services||(319) 335-3557|
|The Student Counseling Virtual Pamphlet Collection|