Faculty and staff provide support for students in a myriad of ways at Calvin University. The Center for Counseling and Wellness is here to equip and encourage you in your role, as you work alongside students day in and day out to promote their success and wellbeing. The resources here will guide you in responding to students in distress, as well as keep you up-to-date on faculty/staff training opportunities related to mental wellness on campus.

Are you a faculty or staff member who is concerned about the emotional wellbeing of a student? Resources exist across campus to support the student, and also to support you in responding effectively. While you are encouraged to stay within your assigned campus role, here are some guidelines when encountering emotional concerns during a student interaction. (Here is a condensed, printable version of these guidelines.) You are always welcome to contact the Center for Counseling and Wellness for consultation regarding a student situation.

Responding to emotional distress

If you see something, say something! Remain calm, and tune your response to the level of the distress displayed by a student.

  • Level 1: A student with uncomfortable emotions

    Overview: All people experience emotions, many of them uncomfortable. Students are expected to go through periods of sadness, anxiety and irritability. These feelings can be particularly prominent during times of transition or stress, of which there are many during the university experience. Difficult family or friend group issues can add to the natural challenges of emerging adulthood for some students.

    What to do: The most important response to students in emotional distress is active, reflective listening. Provide mirroring responses, empathize with the students’ emotions, and verbalize encouragement.

    A crucial source of support for students on campus is peer support. Encourage the student to connect with other students in healthy ways. Examples of peer support options include connection with Residence Life staff and activities, participation in student organizations, participation with the group fitness program on campus, and engagement with Center for Intercultural Student Development groups and peer mentoring. In addition, the Calvin Unmasked app provides students with 24/7 access to anonymous peer support from other Calvin students (including trained student moderators of the app).

    Directing students to other staff support through the Student Life division can also be very helpful for students who are feeling overwhelmed. The Center for Counseling and Wellness has a wealth of resources (both online and in person) for students who are seeking to build emotional resilience. Examples of other available supports on campus include:

    • Residence Life/Dean of Students—assist in connecting effectively with campus life
    • Campus Ministries—provide spiritual counseling and facilitate spiritual growth
    • Health Services—assess and treat physical concerns
    • Career Center—provide vocational counseling and guidance
    • Mentoring program—match students with a caring adult who can inspire and support
    • Center for Intercultural Student Development—create intercultural opportunities for student support
    • Center for Student Success—provide academic coaching, tutoring and disability accomodations
    • Rhetoric Center—coach students in strengthening writing skills

    Whenever you've connected with a student about emotional matters, it’s always good to check in again at a later point. This lets the student know that you care and that they are not alone in their struggles.

  • Level 2: A student with intensely and/or chronically uncomfortable emotions

    Overview: People experience varying levels of intensity in their emotional experiences. Students with uncomfortable emotions that are intense and chronic may have difficulty controlling tearfulness or stress. They may experience strong bouts of anxiety, resulting in panic attack symptoms, and they may demonstrate difficulty concentrating. They may also exhibit outburst of frustration toward others. When students are struggling to manage such emotions, they may resort to behaviors such as social isolation, non-lethal self-harm (such as cutting), or suicidal thinking (without a suicide plan or intent to follow through) as ways of coping. While these are not healthy behaviors, there is no need to panic.

    What to do: Even when a student is experiencing significant emotional difficulty, the most important thing you can do is to listen well. So start with the tips above under Level 1, and then build on these with the following steps.

    Students with intensely and/or chronically uncomfortable emotions are sometimes having a transient experience that does not pose significant risk. They may know helpful coping skills that they can return to, and they may have a strong support network around them. At other times, such students are in the midst of a major mental health crisis that does pose significant risk. They may lack resources and supports. If you are unclear whether the student is considering acting on suicidal thoughts, ask directly: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” If the answer is “yes,” or if the student is unable to provide a direct answer to clarify risk, the situation has moved to Level 3. If the student denies thoughts of self-harm, proceed with a Level 2 response.

    Ask the student whether they are receiving support from a counselor. If not, encourage them to schedule an appointment at the Center for Counseling and Wellness – you can help them make the call (616-526-6123) or complete the online request form. You can let them know that screening appointments are available for first-time students to talk over options, with no commitment required. A wide range of services are available (both online and in person), and all services are free. You can also assure them that the counseling center is widely used, with approximately one out of 5 Calvin students seeking services each year.

    Whether or not the student is willing to follow through with your referral, encourage them to connect with any other campus staff members that might be helpful. Consult the list under Level 1, and consider which resources could best support the student, based on their particular stressors and circumstances.

    For students who are experiencing some suicidal thinking without specific plan or intent, consider providing them with information regarding the Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255). Remind them that crisis care is available throughout each business day at the Center for Counseling and Wellness, or from Residence Life staff or Campus Safety during off-hours. Encourage them to reach out to someone immediately if they become unable to keep themselves safe.

    To activate support systems for the student, complete a Student Concern report. The report will be reviewed by staff from the Center for Student Success who coordinate care for students, and will be routed to the appropriate individual or team for follow up.

    When you’ve supported a student at this level, document your actions and let your supervisor or department chair know about the situation. You are always welcome to call staff at the Center for Counseling and Wellness for consultation. Check in the with the student at a later point as you are able in order to express care and ongoing encouragement to seek treatment.

  • Level 3: A student with evidence of danger to self or others
    Is there an emergency?

    Overview: When a student expresses evidence of danger to self or others, immediate action is required. Examples would be a student who states that they have been actively researching methods of suicide or a student who states that they are considering harming another person. Swift intervention is also important if a student has lost connection with reality and has become psychotic. In these situations, do not attempt to handle the situation on your own.

    What to do: Even in the most extreme situations, you are advised to maintain a calm demeanor and a listening posture toward the student. If a student is calm enough to have a conversation, ask them questions to further understand the situation. If it is clear that the student is at risk of harm, contact Campus Safety at 616-526-3333 (or another mental health first-responder) immediately. Work with the first responder to follow campus emergency protocol; do not attempt to manage the situation on your own. It is likely that the first responder will arrange for an assessment of the student at the Pine Rest Contact Center (800-678-5500) in order to ensure safety.

    As with Level 2, it is important to document your actions and let your supervisor or department chair know about the situation. It is also recommended that you inform the Center for Counseling and Wellness of the situation, in order to facilitate effective response and follow-up by the center.

How to talk about emotions

The most powerful treatment for emotional distress is a listening ear. Creating a safe, caring, supportive environment goes a long way in helping students calm emotions, focus thinking, and move forward. Here are some phrases that can be useful for listening well.

  • Use open-ended questions
    “Can you tell me a bit about what’s going on?”
    “You seem upset. What’s up?”
    “How are you doing?”
  • Reflect thoughts and feelings
    “You’re thinking that you don't have what it takes to get through this” (thought)
    “You’re feeling pretty frustrated.” (feeling)
    “You’re thinking that this is going to go badly for you.” (thought)
    “You’re feeling overwhelmed by all you have to do.” (feeling)
  • Provide empathy and validation
    “I’ve been there too.”
    “It’s okay to be having a hard time–this is hard stuff.”
    “This is a really challenging time for you.”
  • Highlight strengths and successes
    “You’ve made it through hard times before, and I know you can make it through this too.”
    “You can do this!”
    “Lots of people are on this journey with you.”

How to make a referral

When encouraging a student to schedule an appointment at the Center for Counseling and Wellness, approach the topic with compassion and understanding. Help to shape accurate expectations - the student will begin with a screening, and will leave that appointment with an action plan for engaging in the wellness services that will be most helpful to them (whether a group, a workshop, an online resource, a campus connection, or an individual follow-up appointment). Students are expected to make their own appointments at the Center for Counseling and Wellness, but you can support them by helping them make the initial phone call (616-526-6123) or complete the online appointment request form. You may also choose to submit a referral form to CCW staff ahead of time via confidential means, such as encrypted email or in-person delivery to office staff. Here are some phrases that can be useful for making a referral.

  • Start with their thoughts and experiences
    “Have you thought about Counseling and Wellness services before?”
    “What’s been helpful for you in the past?”
    “What kinds of things have you heard about the Center for Counseling and Wellness?”
  • Normalize the help-seeking experience
    “A lot of students find it helpful to talk to a counselor when they’re having these kinds of feelings.”
    “About 20% of students on campus utilize the Center for Counseling and Wellness every year. It’s quite normal.”
    “Everybody can benefit from talking with a counselor.”
  • Explore reluctance
    “What has gotten in the way of you getting help?”
    “What would keep you from talking to a counselor about these things?”
    “Could it be worth taking this step even though it is difficult?”
    “There’s no need to commit to anything long-term – you can just schedule a screening appointment, see what they have to offer, and then go from there.”
  • Provide hope and support
    “A lot of students use the Center for Counseling and Wellness and find it to be really helpful.”
    “I think the resources at Counseling and Wellness could be really beneficial for you.”
    “If you’d like, I can help you make the call to schedule an appointment.”

Concerned about a student’s well-being? Submit a Student Concern report for follow-up by caring staff members on campus. In case of emergency, call 911 or Campus Safety (616-526-3333).

Suicide prevention training

QPR workshops provide participants with research-based suicide prevention training. QPR was developed to help you help someone who may be considering suicide. QPR focuses on three life-saving skills: Question, Persuade and Refer. Similar to CPR, QPR is easy to learn and may help save a life. This is a certification workshop developed by the QPR Institute for Suicide Prevention and is presented by Shayne McNichols, LMSW (CCW Assistant Director).

QPR workshops include education, videos, and role plays. Each participant receives a booklet containing access to certification as well as to additional resources (including information on trauma, bullying, youth depression, bipolar disorder and research-based acute suicide warnings).

The 2023-24 schedule for QPR workshops (offered at no charge) is as follows:

Faculty/Staff QPR Training

  • Thursday, October 26, 3:30-5:30 p.m.
  • Friday, February 23, 9-11:00 a.m.

Student QPR Training

  • Thursday, October 5, 3:30-5:30 p.m.
  • Friday, February 9, 9-11:00 a.m.

Suicide Prevention Resources (ZeroSuicide) are also available in the form of self-directed online training and forms, with the option to review these in collaboration with staff from the Center for Counseling and Wellness in the context of your department, staff team, or other campus group if you choose.

To sign up for QPR, request guided ZeroSuicide training, or find out more about suicide prevention, contact the Center for Counseling and Wellness at 616-526-6123 or counseling@calvin.edu.

Mental health presentations

Counseling & Wellness staff are available to provide free presentations related to mental wellness in your class, department meeting, staff meeting, student organization or other Calvin University campus setting. Examples of potential topics include:

For students

  • Mental wellness resources on campus
  • Managing stress effectively
  • Self-care through the university years and beyond
  • Mindfulness
  • Suicide prevention
  • Supporting a struggling friend
  • Transitioning out of university

For faculty & staff

  • Mental wellness resources on campus
  • Responding to student distress
  • Supporting emotional resilience
  • Suicide prevention
Other topics are available upon request. To find out more or to request a presentation, contact the Center for Counseling & Wellness at 616-526-6123 or counseling@calvin.edu.

Self-help resilience training in the classroom

The Therapy Assistance Online (TAO) program provides students with the tools to learn emotional resilience, including modules on stress, relaxation, communication, anxiety, depression, and many other relevant topics. Professors and staff can access the program at no charge, including the ability to assign content and monitor student completion through the gradebook feature. If you are a Calvin professor or staff member interested in utilizing TAO content with students, please contact the CCW office for instructions.

Syllabus statement

Including a brief mental health statement in course syllabi is a simple way for faculty to support student wellbeing and participate in suicide prevention. The primary goal of such a statement is to normalize help-seeking behavior, convey warmth, and share basic resource information. While you may want to modify this to fit your own style, here is one example of such a statement:

"It's okay to struggle! Students can experience a range of challenges that interfere with learning, such as concentration difficulties, stress (or anxiety), low motivation, relationship difficulties, depressed mood, or substance use. You are encouraged to care well for yourself by keeping a consistent sleep schedule, eating well, avoiding drugs and alcohol, exercising, and taking time to relax.

Also, learning how to ask for help is an important part of the college experience, and many people on campus are eager to support you. The Center for Counseling and Wellness sees one out of five students each year and can connect you with a variety of mental health resources on and off campus (www.calvin.edu/go/counseling). You can also reach out to me, another faculty/staff, a friend, or a family member you trust for help getting connected to support. You are not alone, and help is available!"

Other resources