Students exhibiting irrational/inappropriate behavior have difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. Their thinking is typically illogical, confused or irrational (e.g., jumping from one topic to another with no connection); their emotional responses may be incongruent or inappropriate; and their behavior may be bizarre and disturbing. They may experience hallucinations and may report hearing voices. Their academic work (classroom speech or written assignments) may be unintelligible and they may use words that don’t make sense. While this student may illicit alarm or fear from others, they are generally not dangerous or violent. If you cannot make sense of their conversation or work, you should contact Counseling Services immediately or as soon as possible.
When you encounter a student who displays irrational or inappropriate behavior or appears to be out of touch with reality:
- Acknowledge their feelings or fears without supporting the misconceptions (e.g., “I understand you think someone is following you, and it must seem real to you, but I don’t see anyone and I believe you are safe.”)
- Remove extra stimulation from the environment (i.e., step outside of the classroom, turn off any radios)
- Acknowledge your concerns and verbalize that they need help.
- Acknowledge your difficulty in understanding them and ask for clarification
- Respond with warmth and kindness but use firm reasoning.
- Focus on the here and now.
- If the student is an immediate danger to themselves or others, Call 911 for assistance.
- If the student is not in immediate danger of hurting themselves or others, but you are very concerned, call Counseling Services (906) 487-2538
- When possible, accompany the student to Counseling Services (Third Floor, Admin. Building)
- Be aware that the student may show no emotions or intense emotions.
- Be aware that the student may be extremely fearful to the extent of paranoia.
- Be aware that the student may not understand you or understand only pieces of what is being said.
- Crowd the student’s personal space.
- Assume the student will be able to take care of him/herself when out of touch with reality.
- Agitate the student. Be flexible in the manner you proceed with the student.
- Argue with the student’s erroneous thought processes. Trying to convince them of the irrationality of their thinking commonly produces a stronger defense of the false perception.
- Play along (e.g., “oh yes, I hear the voices too.”) Don’t encourage further discussion of delusional processes.
- Don’t demand, command or order the student to do something to change their perceptions.
- Chase after a student who decides to run. Call 911 for assistance.
- Allow a student’s friends to take care of the student without getting a professional opinion.
This page was adapted with permission from material developed by the University of California, Santa Barbara.