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Signs of Mental Health Challenges

Faculty and staff sometimes wonder if a student has a mental health challenge* that he/she is coping with in addition to the pressures of being in college. Often students will disclose personal information to faculty/staff because of the safety and professionalism offered by SRJC personnel. Students also tend to talk to faculty/staff because they feel more comfortable speaking with someone they know. Other students come to the attention of faculty/staff when their behavior deteriorates from a previously higher level of functioning or when their behavior deviates markedly from their peers. Therefore, faculty/staff at SRJC often play a critical role in connecting students to additional resources and providing needed support.

The stress of college can initiate or exacerbate mental health symptoms. For the student who has no history of mental health challenges, the pressure of performance on tests, homework, and the social performance demands can overwhelm students’ coping strategies, especially if the student is already dealing with multiple external stressors. Likewise, students with a history of mental health challenges may experience a resurgence of symptoms under the pressures of school. However, please keep in mind that every semester hundreds of SRJC students with mental health challenges are enrolled and academically successful.

Observation alone is not enough to determine if a student has an on-going mental health challenge; possibly, the student is having a bad day or a bad week due a situational life stressor. The purpose of this page is to provide SRJC faculty/staff resources to assist a student, whether that student is dealing with situational life stressors or chronic mental health challenges.

The following table provides a list of behaviors that may indicate the student has a mental health challenge.

*The term “mental health challenge” can be used interchangeably with “mental health diagnosis.” In addition, the terms “mental health disability” or “psychological disability” are used when a person’s mental health diagnosis results in limitations of functioning. Outdated, pathologizing terms such as “mental illness” place a person in a one-down role, submissive to the medical system. It is important to be aware that social stigma about mental health issues is often conveyed inadvertently through language; for example, pathologizing terms such as .....

Possible signs and symptoms and what to do
  Possible Signs & Symptoms What you can do

Nervous or anxious
Sad, crying, or depressed
Difficulty concentrating
Disheveled appearance
Mildly angry or irritable mood
Procrastination, poor quality of work, especially if inconsistent with previous work
Lack of energy, fatigue, falling asleep in class
Somewhat impaired speech or disjointed thoughts
Excessive weight gain/loss
Social withdrawal

Talk to the student and express your concerns
(1) share with them the behavior you observed,
(2) express your concern for the student’s wellbeing,
(3) offer the student resources, perhaps by walking the student to Student Psychological Services. The Yellow Card expedites SPS services. Faxing the Yellow Card Referral Form allows you to give SPS information about why you are concerned about the student.

If needed, discuss what the student needs to do to be successful in the class.

Listen, without judgment and connect the student to their support system and other resources. Protect distressed students from harmful interactions with their peers by creating a safe learning environment for all students by stating clear behavioral guidelines outlined in the syllabus.


Repeated requests for special consideration for due dates/absences

Excessive talking in class

Irritable or aggressive behavior

Dependency (the student who wants excessive time with faculty/staff)

Changes in personal hygiene

Sleeping in class

Not following staff/faculty directives

For disruptive attendance/class participation: set limits for appropriate behavior

Give the student a verbal warning that the behavior is disruptive and state the behavior that you expect of the student; for example, “Please write your question down, I need to give other students a chance to ask questions.”

For dependency issues: determine how much time it is appropriate for you to be available to the student, communicate that boundary to the student, and refer the student to SPS if he/she needs more support. If they cannot respect this boundary, consider a referral to student discipline for violation of Section M of the Student Conduct Code.

For hygiene issues: inform the student of how strong smells can be disruptive to the learning environment; if necessary, dismiss the student.

For the sleeping student: wake the student up to determine if the student is under the influence, check in with them privately with concern for their welfare, set limits for appropriate behavior in class.

For not following directives: state the behavior you expect (e.g. “we can continue this conversation if you lower your voice”), if the student continues to not comply, give a verbal warning (e.g. “I need you to lower your voice or you will be suspended from class”), if the student persists, see the dangerous/dysregulated section below.

Please keep in mind that all students need to follow the Student Conduct Code.

Dangerous/ Dysregulated

Verbally expressed suicidal thoughts

Written suicidal statements (e.g. e-mail, papers)

For the suicidal student: Contact the student, express your concern, and connect the student to Student Psychological Services. Call SPS Monday through Friday during business hours (524-1595), and/or walk the student to SPS. After hours, call District Police (527-1000). It may be that resources need to be mobilized to check on the student’s welfare even when off campus. Listen with care and express your concern for the student’s well-being. If needed, call B:CARE TEAM for a consultation.

Bizarre behavior (e.g. responding to stimuli that is not present)

Bizarre behavior is usually a sign of internal dysregulation rather than dangerousness; however, the student should be professionally assessed for his/her ability to take care of his/her basic needs/safety. Refer the student to SPS or call District Police for this assessment. If a student exhibits non-threatening delusional behavior, it is not useful to debate the student’s belief system; instead, simply state that you have a different perspective. It can be difficult for a person in the grips of a psychotic thought process to have insight about what is going on internally; therefore, it may be helpful to externalize the student’s problem (e.g. “I’d like to get you some support for all the stress you have going on in your life right now.”)

Verbal threats

Not following staff/faculty directives

Always document the incident.

Depending on the nature/severity of the threat or noncompliance, either
(1) Call District Police: 527-1000
(2) Consider a referral for discipline for any violations of the Student Conduct Code

How Frequent are Mental Health Challenges for SRJC Students?

According to the 2010 National College Health Assessment survey of 1090 SRJC students, the majority of SRJC students are experiencing challenges to their mental health and well-being. For example, 66% of SRJC students reported multiple areas of their life were “traumatic or very difficult to handle” (e.g. finances, academics, intimate relationships, family relationships, career related issues, sleep difficulties). More than half of the sample reported that in the past year they felt either overwhelmed by their tasks (77%), exhausted (not from physical activity, 74%), very lonely (53%), very sad (61%), overwhelming anxiety (51%), overwhelming anger (45%), or that things were hopeless (50%). Therefore, it is the normative experience for our students to have difficulty coping with their life stressors.

Despite these intense mental challenges, a minority of SRJC students (23%) sought treatment for a mental health concern in the last year. For those students who did seek treatment, anxiety and depression were the most commonly reported diagnoses.


  Contact Information Services Provided
SRJC Resources

Student Psychological Services

Individual, couples, group, substance abuse, Spanish language, and drop-in counseling provided. SPS also provides psychiatric services for students in counseling.

Student Health Services

Clinical services, health counseling, and education are provided by Nurse Practitioners, Physicians, and Medical Assistants.

Disability Resources Department

For assistance with disability management and academic accommodations. Many students do not know that psychological disabilities qualify them for DRD services.

Community Resources

Mental Health Providers

Issue Specific Services

Sliding scale psychotherapy resources:

Self-help Support & Advocacy: