Disturbed Students

The behavior of the disturbed student often makes those around him/her feel vaguely uncomfortable on some level. Generally, we feel as though the disturbed student is acting irrationally or out of synch with the reality that we perceive. Signs of a disturbed student may include the following:
  • Impaired speech and disjointed thoughts
  • Emotional responses that may be incongruent and/or inappropriate
  • Expressed suicidal thoughts (e.g., referring to suicide as a current option)
  • Self-mutilating behaviors, including cutting or burning of the self
  • Frequent or high levels of irritable or abrasive behavior
  • Unable to make decisions despite your repeated efforts to clarify or encourage
  • Bizarre behavior that is obviously inappropriate for the situation (e.g., talking to something/someone that is not present)
  • Report of sexual or physical assault, or the recent death of a friend or family member
  • Suspicious and/or paranoid thoughts

Tips for dealing with the disturbed student

  • If there is no immediate threat, speak with the student privately and confidentially. Document all conversations.
  • Express your concern for their behavior, and set appropriate limits for their interactions with you in and out of the classroom.
  • It is generally not helpful to argue with the student or try to convince them or their irrationality. It is also generally not helpful to "play along" and reinforce any delusions.
  • It may be helpful to acknowledge the student's feelings without supporting the misperception (e.g., "I understand that you think you are hearing voices, but I cannot hear them, and I believe you are safe.")
  • Document each incident of inappropriate behavior.
  • Contact The Counseling Center for consultation and assistance in responding to the student.

If the student is disruptive in class, s/he may be asked to leave the classroom for the remainder of the period. In such a case, the faculty member should contact Dr. Joe Sherlin, the Dean of Students, (423)439-4210 for further instructions regarding the student's potential return to the classroom. If you wish to remove the student for longer than the remainder of the class period, you must contact the Dean of Students to file the appropriate forms so that the incident can be addressed through the judicial system.