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Mental and Emotional Health

Considerations for Faculty and Staff Who Work with Graduate Students

Faculty and staff members are often on the front line in dealing with student concerns. These concerns may include problems with scholarly work, difficulties with advisors, other faculty or staff, disruptive behavior or personal concerns including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, relationship/financial problems, and other emotional issues. The desired outcome in managing graduate student mental and emotional health concerns is to fashion an individualized approach that supports the student's continued and successful enrollment and that does not compromise the health and safety of the campus community. Toward that end, this resource is intended to serve as a practical guide for use by department and program leadership in preparation for and management of situations involving students in need.

The goals of this resource guide are as follows:

  1. To make faculty and staff aware of the resources on campus to assist in managing a distressed or disruptive student.
  2. To encourage faculty and staff to refer students to the appropriate student affairs professionals in their school or college for assistance.
  3. To explain that managing challenging or disruptive students is an institutional responsibility that requires the contributions of various professionals and content experts.

Role of Faculty and Staff Members

Faculty and staff are often the first members of the University community to identify distressed and disruptive students, and are in the best position to refer them to appropriate campus resources. Counseling and Psychological Services' (CAPS) Helping Students in Distress offers tips for recognizing students in distress, warning signs for when to refer a student for further assistance and how to make a referral. Faculty and staff members should not be expected to serve as a spokesperson, messenger or intermediary for other individuals in the department or program when managing student behavioral concerns.

Please see the end of this document for a list of appropriate resources to use when assisting a distressed or disruptive student.

For students who are exhibiting behaviors that cause concern or for students in need of significant support, it is not appropriate for a faculty or staff member to take on the role of counselor. Instead, make sure that the appropriate person in your school or college is aware of the student and your concern so that professional experts can be identified to assist the student and safeguard the community. A good place to start is the assistant or associate dean for student affairs, if there is a person with these responsibilities. Outside of your school or college, the following offices are important resources: CAPS, the Dean of Students office, Rackham Graduate School.

If you are concerned about your personal safety when meeting with a student or when you plan to discuss a sensitive issue (e.g., dismissal from a program) do not meet with the student alone. Consider the following options:

  1. Consult with your designated school or college student affairs administrator for advice on how to communicate with the student;
  2. Consult with the Dean of Students office and/or Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) about how to structure the communication;
  3. Include a third person in the conversation;
  4. Consult with U-M Police about the option of having a plainclothes officer present.

Understanding the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that provides students with access to their own educational records and prohibits unauthorized disclosures of a student's educational records. FERPA should not be viewed as a barrier for faculty and staff in providing the necessary support for individual students in crisis or in protecting the health and safety of our campus community.

Because FERPA is limited to protecting the confidentiality of student educational records, it does not limit an administrator's or faculty member's ability to share information about a student's behavior that he or she observes or learns from talking with a student or others.

In the case of a health or safety emergency, FERPA allows administrators to share information with anyone who could prevent harm from occurring, including parents.

FERPA allows colleges and universities to share information with a student's consent. Students are often the best source for identifying personal support systems outside of the college or university setting.

Parents or other relatives should be contacted only when there is an immediate threat to the health and safety of the student or others and there is reasonable belief that contact with parents or other relatives would be beneficial. The Dean of Students office (734-764-7420), the Office of General Counsel (734-764-0304), and Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) (734-764-8312) are appropriate resources for determining when parents or other relatives should be contacted.

If anyone contacts the program to share concerns about a student's health and safety, the level of threat should be determined first:

Crisis/Emergency

Contact U-M Police (734-763-1131) and the Dean of Students office (734-764-7420)

Serious Concern About Health and Safety But Not an Emergency

Contact the Dean of Students office which can find the student, assess the situation, and determine appropriate support services.

No Threat

Contact the student and suggest that he or she follows up with the person who registered the concern and inform the student of appropriate campus resources (e.g., CAPS, Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), U-M Police, the Dean of Students office, Rackham Resolution Officer, Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC))


Considerations for Communications with Students

Confidential communication takes place between parties in a confidential relationship (e.g., doctor and patient, attorney and client, or husband and wife) such that the recipient of the communication has a legal privilege exempting him or her from disclosing it as a witness. Confidentiality implies a legal obligation between involved parties.

Unlike confidentiality, private communication does not imply a legal obligation between parties and there are no legal consequences if information from a private communication is disclosed to other parties.

In many situations, privacy may be offered to students, to increase chances that students will seek needed help by increasing their sense of safety in making the request. However, faculty and staff are NOT bound by the many rules mental health professionals must follow regarding confidentiality, as mental health professionals have a legal privilege that exempts them from disclosing information.

For faculty and staff dealing with a distressed or disruptive student, there are issues for which privacy should NOT be offered. These issues include:

  • talk about suicide;
  • threats to the safety of others;
  • unlawful discrimination or harassment

If a student reports these items to you, you MUST report this information to the appropriate campus resource.

In addition, any activity that undermines the mission of the department or the University must also be reported. Examples of situations which must be reported include:

  • unsafe/improper practices in a lab or classroom setting that may make the institution liable;
  • plagiarism, data falsification, or data fabrication;
  • improper use of University funds or funds from a research grant; and
  • conflicts of interest and conflicts of commitment, such as a student serving as a GSI for a class in which his or her sibling is enrolled.

In general, it is a good practice to:

  • inform a student when certain actions must be reported and/or that you plan to share information disclosed during a meeting with another person in the department/program;
  • inform the student whom you intend to notify about a situation; and
  • Maintain privacy of information about a non-emergency personal or mental health concern (e.g., divorce, depression, medical information)

If a situation occurs that is likely to influence a student's academic performance or participation in the department or program, it is helpful to share information with those who will be affected (e.g., the student's advisor, the program or department chair).

When communicating with students, faculty or staff regarding a concern about a student, either electronically or on paper, be thoughtful about how your communication may be viewed from an outside perspective. It is important to be professional, nonjudgmental, and factual about sensitive topics.


Responding to Emergent Situations

If a student tells you that he or she has harmed him or herself or has an immediate suicide plan, you should call U-M Police by dialing 911 from a campus phone or 734-763-1131. In addition, contact CAPS (734-764-8312) and request the Counselor on Duty, or Psychiatric Emergency Services (734-996-4747).

  • If a student is expressing suicidal thoughts, appears depressed or shows other distressing behaviors but does not indicate an immediate plan and/or can reassure you that he or she is "safe," call Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and ask for the Counselor on Duty (734-764-8312).
  • If the situation is unstable and immediate assistance is needed or if a faculty or staff member feels threatened or overwhelmed, contact U-M Police (734-763-1131). If possible, alert another faculty or staff member in the office that there is an urgent situation at hand.
  • If a student reveals troubling information about another student, acting on this information should be at the faculty or staff member's discretion. Consult with the Rackham Resolution Officer (734-764-4400) and/or the Dean of Students office (734-764-7420) to help decide on an appropriate course of action.
  • In an emergency, FERPA permits school officials to disclose without student consent education records, including personally identifiable information from those records, to protect the health and safety of students or other individuals. If you have a question about whether information can be disclosed under FERPA, consult with the Office of the General Counsel (734-764-0304).
  • A student may disclose to a faculty or staff member that he or she has experienced a personal emergency outside of the academic setting. These incidents might include a death or serious illness in the family, auto accident, fire, mental or medical health issues and natural disasters. Frequently, the Dean of Students office provides support and coordinates the University's response to a student's needs.

When a Student Drops Out of Contact

Depending on the academic course of study or what stage of the degree program a student is in, a student's contact with his or her program may be less frequent at some times than at other times.

  • If you have not heard from a student for a reasonable period of time, consider checking-in with him or her, either informally or formally.
  • If a student does not respond to efforts to contact him or her, first confer with other faculty or staff members in the department to see if anyone has heard from the student. If no one has heard from the student, you may consult with Rackham Graduate School and/or the Dean of Students office for assistance. Rackham or the Dean of Students may have information about the student and may be able to facilitate and mediate actions concerning non-responsiveness from students. After consulting with Rackham or the Dean of Students office, you may decide to send an e-mail to the student informing him or her that failure to respond to the e-mail by a certain date will be followed by an intervention from authorities to check on the student's safety.

Accommodations for Students with Psychological Disabilities

All accommodations (including academic accommodations) for students with disabilities are handled through the Services for Students with Disabilities office (SSD) (734-763-3000).

Students seeking an accommodation should contact the office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), provide documentation that clarifies that he or she has a mental health condition that qualifies as a disability, and request intervention on his or her behalf. SSD will provide a verification letter that includes recommendations for accommodations. The student is then responsible for delivering this letter to each instructor from whom he or she is requesting accommodations. If a student is struggling as a result of a disability but has not provided you with a verification letter, you may choose to discuss your concerns with him or her in privacy and, if needed, to make a referral to the SSD office.


Resources for Consultation

Rackham Dean’s Office

The Rackham Graduate School has a designated Resolution Officer (RO), located in the Rackham Dean’s Office to advise faculty, staff and students on matters related to student emergencies, crisis situations, complaints and student conduct violations The RO provides assistance with concerns, complaints or problems; provides information about Graduate School and University policies and procedures; and makes referrals and/or provides resources when appropriate.

Contact the Resolution Officer for information about Rackham's dispute resolution services and academic/professional or non-academic misconduct policies and procedures, (734) 764-4400.

Office of the Dean of Students

The Dean of Students office can provide assistance with student matters outside of the academic setting such as illness, injury, family emergency, emotional assistance, etc. This office can also notify academic units of student emergencies. The Office of the Dean of Students treats student information and communications as confidential according to law and consistent with the office's own practices. The office, however, may be compelled to share certain information with others on a need-to-know basis. When this happens, it is the Dean of Students office's practice to inform the student first.

Contact

Phone: (734) 764-7420

Office of the General Counsel

The Office of the General Counsel (OGC) provides legal counsel to the University of Michigan, which includes the Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint campuses. Faculty and staff are welcome to consult the office when dealing with legal or any concerns regarding students. Before consulting with OGC, it is desirable to consult the Dean's office of the school or college where the student is enrolled.

Contact

Phone: (734) 764-0304

U-M Police

U-M Police should be contacted to respond to emergencies of all kinds as well as crimes. U-M Police officers also can partner in consulting with faculty or staff members as to an appropriate response to a difficult situation or planning for a future event.

Dial 911 in an emergency or (734) 763-1131 for non-emergency discussions.

Office of Institutional Equity

The Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), a unit of Human Resources and Affirmative Action (HR/AA), provides the delivery of programming and services for faculty, staff, students, and management to support diversity, inclusiveness, equal access, equitable treatment, and cultural understanding and competency. The Office provides training and consultation on achieving and supporting diversity in the workplace, on Americans with Disabilities Act issues, and on preventing and resolving discrimination and discriminatory harassment. The Office also provides support to a number of constituency groups.

Contact

Phone: (734) 763-0235

Office of Student Conflict Resolution

OSCR administers the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities, collaborates with students, student groups, student leaders and campus departments, implements related university policies and developing procedures that provide alternative dispute resolution, and provides proactive and preventive educational programming for students, student groups and campus departments.

Contact

Phone: (734) 936-6308

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) offers a variety of services aimed at helping undergraduate and graduate/professional students resolve personal difficulties and acquire the skills, attitudes, and knowledge that will enable them to take full advantage of their experiences at the University of Michigan.

Consultation services are also available for staff and faculty members with concerns regarding a student. Please call (734) 764-8312 and ask to speak to the Counselor on Duty as the first step for assistance. If you are interesting in learning more about how to help distressed students, CAPS offers specialized training. QPR is a behavioral intervention which will inform you on how to Question a person about suicidal thoughts, Persuade them to get help and behavioral tools on how to Refer them for professional help. If you are interested in QPR training for your department of unit, visit the CAPS website to fill out a QPR request form.

Contact

Phone: (734) 764-8312

University Health Service (UHS)

University Health Service clinicians provide medical management of common mental health issues, including:

  • evaluation of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and sleep disorders;
  • treatment options, including medications;
  • medical management for confirmed diagnoses of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD);
  • prescription renewals with standard medication regimens for conditions such as stable depression or anxiety, for patients who no longer need counseling; and
  • referral to a UHS psychiatrist for consultation (access available only for students, with a UHS referral) or to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)(or other appropriate resource) for counseling.

Several UHS clinicians, a registered dietitian, and health educators in Health Promotion and Community Relations (HPCR) work with students struggling with eating disorders and body image issues. HPCR health educators also provide information and consultations about alcohol and other drugs.

Contact

Phone: (734) 764-8320

Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC)

Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center (SAPAC) provides educational and supportive services for the University of Michigan community related to sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, sexual harassment, and stalking. SAPAC offers a number of services including education and training, information and referral, crisis intervention, advocacy, and special events.

Contact

Phone: (734) 936-3333

Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD)

Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) provides services to students with visual impairments, learning disabilities, mobility impairments, hearing impairments, chronic health problems and psychological disabilities, so they may receive a complete range of academic and non-academic opportunities.

Contact

Phone: (734) 763-3000

Assisting Students in Need: A Resource Guide for Faculty and Staff

Assisting Students in Need: A Resource Guide for Faculty and Staff was developed in collaboration with Rackham Graduate School and the University of Michigan Psychological Clinic. The goal of the resource guide is to offer practical advice as to the best way to intervene when a student is in need and to help faculty and staff determine which campus services will best provide further advice and needed services for students.

Helping Students in Distress

Information by Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) to help faculty members, teaching assistants, or staff members recognize the symptoms of student distress and to provide suggestions for assisting a student with appropriate campus and community resources.


Policies

Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities

All University of Michigan students must adhere to this policy. When students choose to accept admission to the University, they accept the rights and responsibilities of membership in the University's academic and social community. As members of the University community, students are expected to uphold its previously stated values by maintaining a high standard of conduct. Because the University establishes high standards for membership, its standards of conduct, while falling within the limits of the law, may exceed federal, state, or local requirements.

Policies for Students

These policies, set forth by the Division of Student Affairs, are designed to support and maintain a scholarly community that values diversity and an inclusive educational environment.

The Rackham Academic and Professional Integrity Policy has been written to affirm and clarify the general obligation of all Rackham students to maintain high standards of academic and professional integrity. It defines some of the serious offenses of academic misconduct and outlines, in general terms, the standards to which Rackham students are held relative to professional conduct.

Since many graduate students serve as employees of the University, they are bound by the rules of the Standard Practice Guide.

The University of Michigan Standard Practice Guide: Conflicts of Interest and Conflict of Commitment

"All faculty and staff members are to act with honesty, integrity, and in the best interest of the University when performing their duties, and to abide by the highest standards of research, educational, professional, and fiscal conduct. Given that the University of Michigan allows and encourages outside activities and relationships that enhance the mission of the University, potential conflicts of interest and commitment are inevitable. Outside activities should not, however, interfere with an individual's University obligations. Faculty and staff must not use their official University positions or influence to further gain or advancement for themselves, parents, siblings, spouse or partner, children, dependent relatives, or other personal associates, at the expense of the University."

Read the Conflicts of Interest and Conflicts of Commitment section of the University of Michigan Standard Practice Guide.

Acknowledgments

Rackham gratefully acknowledges the professional contributions of the following individuals in the development of this resource:

  • Sue Eklund, Dean of Students Office
  • Sam Goodin, Services for Students with Disabilities
  • Robert Hatcher, Psychological Clinic
  • James Holloway, College of Engineering
  • Bob Holmes, Office of the Ombudsman
  • Howard Kimeldorf, LSA – Sociology
  • Greg Merritt, University Housing
  • Jeanne Muributo, College of Engineering
  • Esrold Nurse, LSA
  • Sidonie Smith, LSA – English Language and Literature
  • Todd Sevig, Counseling and Psychological Services
  • Johanna Soet, Dean of Students Office
  • Jennifer Schrage, Office of Student Conflict Resolution
  • Donica Varner, Office of the General Counsel
  • Marc Zimmerman, School of Public Health – Health Behavior Health Education

Contact

Comments or suggestions are welcome and may be sent to rack-stu-engagement@umich.edu.