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Mental Health Resources for Families and Friends

1. What mental health issues do college students typically have?

Mental health issues are very common on college campuses. Students often experience a wide range of stresses and pressures that they have to navigate while trying to succeed at school. Some of the most common pressures and issues discussed at college counseling centers include:

  • Academic success
  • Relationships, including romantic, friend, family, roommate, academic, and work relationships
  • Balancing school, work (for many students), and personal life
  • Adjusting to college
  • Being the first person in a family to attend college
  • Developing autonomy and personal responsibility
  • Time management
  • Stress management
  • Anxiety, including general anxiety/worry, test anxiety, and social anxiety
  • Depression, sometimes with thoughts of suicide
  • Substance use/abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

2. How do I talk with my student about his or her mental health issues?

Perhaps the most important thing to do when talking to your student about their mental health concerns is to listen. Being heard and having feelings acknowledged is important to everyone and opens the door to further conversation. Responses that are critical or judgmental are likely to close that door. Keep in mind that you may not see things same way as the student, but it still is important to try to understand his or her point of view. Also, try to remember that feelings are not right or wrong, they just are. That can help the student be more direct and honest, as well. It usually is best not to offer suggestions immediately. Instead, find out what the student needs from you. When talking, try to be direct and honest, even when it is a difficult topic, such as suicide.

3. What are some signs that my student may be feeling depressed?

Depression is a common problem among college students and there are numerous signs that indicate that someone may be depressed. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • A prolonged period of sadness
  • Decreased energy
  • Decreased motivation or drive (e.g., for school)
  • Decreased interest in things the student normally enjoys
  • Increased irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from others, including people to whom the student normally is close
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Thoughts of suicide

Please keep in mind that all people experience many of these things for relatively brief periods at some point. Depression occurs when someone has many of these symptoms at the same time for an extended period of time (at least 2 weeks), and the symptoms have a significant negative impact on the person’s life (e.g., school, work, and relationships) and well-being.

4. What do I do if my student has thoughts of suicide?

Again, directness and honesty are important; do not beat around the bush. Ask if they’re having thoughts of suicide or of killing themselves. You will not put the thought in their head and your willingness to ask the question may give them the permission to answer it honestly. Do not use terms such “having bad thoughts” or “hurting yourself” as these easily can be interpreted in different ways, which makes effective communication more challenging. It also may suggest that that the topic is too difficult, which may result in the student not being fully honest.

5. What do I do if I think my student may try to kill themselves?

The answer to this question depends on what is called “imminent risk”. If you are with your student and believe that the student is at risk for attempting suicide in the very near future, you can transport them to the nearest hospital emergency room for evaluation to determine if hospitalization is appropriate to ensure that the student is safe. If the student is not with you and you are concerned about the student’s immediate safety (e.g., you receive a text or phone call where suicide is mentioned), you can call the UTSA police department at 210-458-4911 or the San Antonio police department at 911. The police can locate the student and do an assessment on the spot to determine if a hospitalization is appropriate and then can transport the student to a hospital to receive the evaluation.

If you are concerned about the student’s safety, but do not believe that the student is at imminent risk for attempting suicide, you can speak with the student about your concerns. Additionally, you can call UTSA Counseling Services at 210-458-4140 to consult with a counselor about the situation. Finally you can complete a Behavior Intervention Team (BIT) report.

6. What is the Behavior Intervention Team (BIT)?

The UTSA Behavior Intervention Team (BIT) is a group of UTSA professionals who have the responsibility of responding to concerns that someone has about the mental health or conduct of a student. The team reviews BIT reports when they come in and determine the best course of action to help the student in that specific situation. Anyone may complete a BIT report using the following link: BIT

7. What are the advantages of talking to a counselor?

There are a number of reasons why a student may benefit from talking to a trained counselor. Many students have concerns about sharing some of their most personal thoughts and feelings with a family member, romantic partner, or friend because they are concerned about how they will be seen. They know that speaking with a counselor is confidential so they may feel more comfortable about revealing certain things. Similarly, since counselors do not have a relationship with the student outside of the professional relationship, a counselor may be able to provide a more objective perspective to the student. Additionally, counselors have specialized training and experience in addressing mental health concerns.

8. What does confidentiality really mean?

Confidentiality refers to a counselor’s legal and ethical obligation not to share what a student says with anyone else to ensure the privacy of the student and the information they share. Stated simply, what is said to a counselor stays with the counselor. This includes not just the information shared during a counseling session, but any type of written information. Examples include the initial documentation and consent forms students complete when they begin services and the notes that the counselor writes to document each contact with a student.

In practical terms, confidentiality dictates that, with a few exceptions, counselors cannot speak with family members, faculty, or other university staff about a specific student. We cannot even confirm or deny that we have heard of a student or whether they have had contact with the counseling center. This can be frustrating for family members as they care about their student and want to do what they can to help.

Confidentiality is the foundation of mental health care. It makes the counseling center a safe place to talk about concerns and issues. If students thought that their counselor might share their information with someone else, many may not seek treatment and those who did may be more reluctant to be fully open for fear of who may have access to information they do not want shared.

There are some important circumstances in which confidential information may shared with others, when necessary. The most common situations are:

  • When there is imminent risk of suicide or homicide
  • When there is suspected abuse of a minor, an elderly person, or a member of a vulnerable population (e.g., an individual with a disability)
  • To comply with a legal requirement, such as a subpoena
  • When the student is a minor
  • When the student has given written permission for a counselor to communicate with a specific individual or organization

Please note that, even in the circumstances just listed, counselors only will share the information required to accomplish the specific goal of the communication.

9. How does my student sign up for counseling?

In most instances, a student calls Counseling Services and requests to set up a counseling appointment. The student will be scheduled for a 15 minute phone triage to gather some initial information about the student and his or her concerns and then will discuss the most appropriate type of assistance for the presenting concerns. Some services offered by Counseling Services are:

  • Short-term individual counseling
  • Single-session consultation
  • Group counseling
  • Skills groups
  • Biofeedback
  • WellTrack
  • Psychiatry
  • On- and off-campus referrals

If the situation is an emergency, the student can walk in to Counseling Services and speak with the Counselor-on-Duty during regular office hours. These are relatively brief sessions that are intended to help the student cope with the immediate situation. These sessions often have a problem-solving or stress management emphasis. They are not counseling sessions.

When Counseling Services is closed, students can access trained counselors by calling Counseling Services and choosing “3” at the prompt.

10. What if my student would like help with substance abuse issues?

Students who would like assistance with alcohol and/or drug use or abuse can contact Counseling Services to discuss treatment options. Additionally, the UTSA Center for Collegiate Recovery is an excellent resource for students currently in recovery.  CCR Link

11. What options are there if my student’s mental health concerns are so significant that they cannot complete the semester?

There are times when a student’s mental health concerns are such that a student may not be able to successfully complete an academic semester. In such instances, the student can speak with his or her faculty to see if there are any academic options (e.g., incompletes). If this is not possible, the student may apply for a mental health withdrawal.

For information on mental health withdrawals, including application requirements

MHW Link

12. Are there other mental health resources that could be helpful?

While Counseling Services can be of assistance in most situations, the following resources may also be very helpful.