Did you know?
Many students experience emotional problems, which can take on various forms, such as insomnia, anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts. Sooner or later, everyone will be confronted, directly or indirectly, with a student with emotional problems. It’s not always easy to talk about it. Many students with emotional problems prefer not to talk about it and do not seek help. Therefore, it is important to be alert for signs that someone may be struggling.
Are you OK? Four signs of emotional problems
These signs may indicate that a student is struggling:
- Changes in behaviour: concentration or eating problems, alcohol or drug abuse, reckless behaviour, agitation, restlessness, a bad temper, excessive anxiety, and so on.
- Withdrawing: going out and meeting friends and family less than before, being more quiet and introverted than usual.
- Changes in emotions: irritability or anger, fear or lethargy, crying more easily.
- Saying that things are not going well: statements such as “I’m at a loss” or “I can’t go on”. Avoiding questions, and answers such as “I’m fine” or “I don’t want to bother you with my problems” can be a sign that things are not going well. Online, emojis like 😟😕😢😖😧😩😫😭 and hashtags such as #lonely, #lost, #givingup, #theend can indicate that a student is struggling.
Trust your gut feeling
If you have the impression that something is wrong, chances are you are right. Be particularly alert if you notice any signs that are new, clearly increasing or connected to a loss, a painful event or a major change. If you notice multiple signs over a longer period of time, it is likely that the student needs help.
Talk about it! Three golden rules for a helpful conversation
- Ask: start the conversation, name the signs and express your concerns. By talking openly and asking questions, you can assess the seriousness of the problem together. If you believe that someone is thinking about suicide, ask them, “Do you ever think about death?” and “Do you sometimes think about suicide?”. It is a misconception that this question would incite action.
- Convince: show understanding for their feelings. You don’t have to give advice or offer solutions right away. You are already helping a lot by being there, listening and thinking along. Encourage them to look for help and find out together who they can turn to.
- Refer: stay true to your role; you’re not a professional. You don’t have to fix the problem yourself. Simply identify the signs and act as a referrer. If the threshold is too high, you can suggest making the appointment together or join them for the first appointment. Perhaps together with you, they will be able to overcome this hurdle.
Ted Talk: Worried about a student? A community approach
Expert professor dr. Ronny Bruffaerts (KU Leuven) explains how you can recognise emotional problems and risk signs in students.