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Helping a Student in Distress

Life at The Boston Conservatory can be very stressful for students as they face the challenge of a highly rigorous environment and begin to face new challenges. Some students come to the Conservatory with struggles that challenge their ability to succeed in this environment.

Faculty, staff and other students may witness early signs of distress as they are played out on campus, in classrooms, in rehearsals and performances, in private lessons and within residence halls. Students may initially seek assistance from faculty, staff members, and other students–particularly when these people are perceived as available and willing to listen. In addition to the support we can provide to each other, there are also professional support services available to students on campus through the Counseling and Wellness Center. We are available to consult with you about your role in providing a student with the help that he or she may need.

Please use the information on this site to gather information about campus resources, make referrals, and to help each other.

In developing this information, The Boston Conservatory has drawn on information from Boston University. 

A Guide for Concerned Faculty and Staff - Helping a Student in Distress

 A. Identifying Students in Distress

Students dealing with personal issues or problems tend to show signs that they are struggling in some way. The severity of the distress is one factor that will determine the best response. Many students may feel depressed or upset at one time or another. However, when symptoms of distress are persistent over a long period of time or when they interfere with academic responsibilities and social relationships, it may be a cause for concern. Following is a list of signs that may indicate that a student is in distress: 

Academic Signs: 

  • Deterioration in quality of work
  • Missed assignments or appointments
  • Repeated absence from class, lessons, rehearsals or performances
  • Continual requests for unusual accommodations (late papers, extensions, postponed exams, etc.)
  • Essays or papers that expresses hopelessness, social isolation, rage, or despair
  • Lack of engagement in participation-oriented classes
  • Inappropriate disruptions or monopolizing classroom time

Physical or Psychological Signs:

  • Excessive anxiety or panic
  • Apathy, lack of energy, a change in sleeping or eating habits, or dramatic weight gain or loss
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene, work habits, or social behavior
  • Mood elevation
  • Isolation or withdrawal
  • Overtly suicidal thoughts, such as referring to suicide as a current option
  • Giving away treasured personal possessions
  • Increased irritability or aggressive behavior
  • Bizarre thinking, seemingly at odds with the reality of the situation (such as apparently paranoid ideas)
  • Excessive use of alcohol or other drugs

Other Factors to Consider:

  • Direct statements indicating family problems, personal losses such as death of a family member or the break-up of a relationship
  • Expressions of concern about a student by peers
  • Written note or verbal statement that has a sense of hopelessness or finality
  • Your sense, however vague, that something is seriously amiss 

B. What You Can Do

Taking the step to assist a student can save a life...perhaps save many lives. It is a positive and life-affirming step to take. An individual who is distressed often wants help but doesn't know how to ask. You can play an essential role by expressing your concern in a caring, nonjudgmental way.

  • Find a private, comfortable place to talk. Give the student your undivided attention. It is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel comfortable about what to do next. Ask if the student has ever talked about this problem with anyone else, including a counselor. Try to get an accurate understanding of the issues, and, if appropriate, encourage the student to talk about the situation with a professional.
  • In your own words, express your concern using statements like, "I'm concerned that...".
  • Ask open-ended questions. The student may choose not to answer, but may feel relieved to know you are trying to understand.
  • Don't feel compelled to find a solution. Often, listening is enough.
  • Suggest that the student can get more help if needed.
  • Don't hesitate to ask for support from the Director of Counseling, Director of Wellness Services, or the Dean of Students.

C. How to Make a Referral

Do not attempt to make a referral when the student is so upset and confused that he or she cannot understand or listen to you. Wait until the student has calmed down enough to be able to converse and respond to your suggestions.

  • Suggest that the student make an appointment with the counseling staff by emailing counseling@bostonconservatory.edu or completing the form at www.bostonconservatory.edu/contact/counseling.
  • If necessary, you can help the student make an appointment. Call the Felix Pizzi, the Counseling and Wellness Center's Director at 617-912-9160 while the student is with you. Write down the appointment details, including time, provider’s name, and location.
  • If the student is hesitant to make an appointment, explain to the student that:
    • Counseling at The Boston Conservatory is confidential. This means that information about the student cannot be released to other Conservatory offices, family members or faculty without the student’s written permission (except when the student is in danger of harming himself or herself or others). Counseling records are not kept with any academic records and are protected by law.
    • The services are free to currently registered Conservatory students.
    • The first meeting is an intake or consultation session.

D. Students In Crisis

A crisis is a situation in which an individual's usual style of coping is no longer effective, and the emotional or physiological response begins to escalate. As emotions intensify, coping becomes less effective, until the person becomes disoriented, nonfunctional, or attempts harm. If a student is in a serious mental health crisis, you might see or hear the following: 

  • Suicidal statements or suicide attempts
  • Written or verbal violence or acting out violently
  • Destruction of property or other criminal acts
  • Extreme anxiety resulting in panic reactions
  • Inability to communicate (e.g., garbled or slurred speech, disjointed thoughts)
  • Loss of contact with reality (e.g., seeing or hearing things that aren't there, expressing beliefs or actions at odds with reality)
  • Highly disruptive behavior (e.g., hostility, aggression, violence)

What to Do When You Suspect a Serious Crisis

If you believe there may be imminent danger of harm to a student or someone else, as evidenced by these crisis symptoms, immediately call Campus Public Safety at 617-912-9191. If you need help in assessing the situation during normal working hours contact the Counseling and Wellness Center Director, Felix Pizzi at 617-912-9160 or Dean of Students, Chris Reade at 617-912-9121. 

If there is an immediate crisis after hours please contact Campus Public Safety at 617-912-9191 or call 911.  

A Guide for Concerned Students - Helping a Student in Distress

A. When to Be Concerned

Life at The Boston Conservatory, with its high standards for excellence in every arena, can be stressful for students, faculty, and staff. Many of us thrive on the challenges of such a stimulating environment, but at times, we all can become tired, irritable, overwhelmed, anxious, demoralized, or depressed.

When is it reasonable, even crucial, to suggest that someone speak with a professional? The initial decision to direct someone to Counseling is often the hardest. Yet identifying and referring a person in distress is vital, even though it is often difficult to make such a personal suggestion. Taking this step can save a life, can perhaps save many lives. It is a positive and life-affirming step to take.

Signs and symptoms of psychological distress:

  • Excessive anxiety or panic
  • Marked decline in academic work or job performance
  • Frequent absence from class or work, especially when this is a change
  • Apathy, lack of energy, change in sleeping or eating habits, or dramatic weight gain or loss
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene, work habits, or social behavior mood elevation isolation or withdrawal
  • Overtly suicidal thoughts, such as referring to suicide as a current option
  • Giving away treasured personal possessions
  • Increased irritability or aggressive behavior
  • Bizarre thinking, seemingly at odds with the reality of the situation (such as apparently paranoid ideas)
  • Excessive use of alcohol or other drugs

B. How You Can Help

Some simple guidelines

An individual who is distressed often wants help but doesn’t know how to ask. You can play an essential role by expressing your concerns in a caring, nonjudgmental way.

  • Find a private, comfortable place to talk
  • In your own words, explain your concerns
  • Ask open-ended questions. Your friend may choose not to answer, but may feel relieved to know you are trying to understand
  • Don’t feel compelled to find a solution. Often listening is enough
  • Suggest that your friend can get more help if needed - point out the resources available at the Conservatory.
  • Know your own limits. If you find yourself thinking about your friend too much, it might help to speak with an RA, the Director of Housing and Student Life, or someone from the Counseling and Wellness Office. You don’t have to handle this alone; many people are here and available to help.

How to make a referral

  • Suggest that your friend make a counseling appointment by emailing counseling@bostonconservatory.edu
  • Fill out the online contact form: www.bostonconservatory.edu/contact/counseling.
  • If necessary, you can help your friend make an appointment. Call the Counseling and Wellness Center's Director 617-912-9160 while your friend is with you. Write down the appointment details, including time, provider’s name, and location.
  • Your can also bring the student of concern to the Counseling and Wellness Center to speak with a counselor. If a student is not available, every effort will be made to see the student as soon as possible.

Emergencies

If you believe someone is in immediate crisis during normal business hours please contact the Counseling and Wellness Center's Director, Felix Pizzi at 617-912-9160, another member of the student affairs staff or the Dean of Students, Chris Reade at 617-912-9121. If it is after hours please contact Campus Public Safety at 617.912.911 or call 911.

Resources for Students in Distress

On Campus:

Associate Dean of Stuent Affairs/ Director of the Counseling and Wellness Center, Felix Pizzi: 617.912.9160

Director of Wellness Services, Nicole Bihler: 617.912.9260

Dean of Students, Chris Reade: 617.912.9121

Director of Housing and Student Life, Eric Crumrine: 617.912.9165 (if there is an incident that occurs in a residence hall and/or if the student lives on campus)

Campus Public Safety: 617.912.9191

Off Campus:

If you would like a referral for off campus counseling, please contact a member of the counseling staff for a referral or consult with your insurance company.

Natonal Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1.800.273.TALK (8255)

The Samaritans
617.247.0220  
(A 24 hour staffed line that offers support to those who are depressed, alone or in crisis)

Massachusetts Drug and Alcohol Hotline
800.327.5050 
www.helpline-online.com 
(Provides information and referrals for those seeking treatment for alcohol and drug related concerns)

Boston Area Rape Crisis Hotline
617.492.RAPE (7273) 
(A 24 hour hotline for survivors of rape and sexual assault)

Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association
1.866.343.MEDA 
www.medainc.org 
(Dedicated to the prevention and treatment of eating disorders and disordered eating)

If someone needs immediate help, please call 911.

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