Identifying and responding to students in distress
- Imminent thoughts of suicide/suicidal activity
- Threats and disruptive behaviour
- Drug and alcohol abuse and misuse
- Assault and/or harassment
- Chronic mental health concerns
- Difficulty in communicating and/or distortions of reality
- Learning and academic challenges
Signs of distress
- Changes in academic performance (deterioration in quality of work, frequently missed assignments and classes, excessive procrastination, avoidance of participation)
- Listlessness or falling asleep in class
- Unusual behaviour (unexplained crying, laughing to self, rapid speech, disorganized thinking, suspiciousness)
- High levels of irritability
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Physical symptoms (nausea, headaches, problems with eating, excessive or disrupted sleeping)
- Changes in hygiene or dress
- Changes in relationships or social behaviour (withdrawal, isolation or dependency)
- Difficulty concentrating or communicating
- Self-harm (e.g. cutting)
What to do and say
- It is OK to ask and express concern
- Be specific about the behaviour that worries you
Example: "I’ve noticed you’ve been absent from class lately and I’m concerned about you."
- Listen non-judgmentally, having an open world view
- Meet in a private location, be patient, and give your undivided attention
Example: "Is there anything I can do to help you?"
- Acknowledge their thoughts and feelings in a compassionate way
- Offer hope and reassure them you are concerned and want to help
Example: "It sounds like you're feeling out of place."
- Provide student with resources
- Offer to make the call with the student
Example: "If you’d like, I can call and book the appointment for you while you are here with me."
Making a good referral
- Point out that help is available and seeking help is a sign of strength and courage rather than weakness. Acknowledge that seeking help can be scary.
- Research resources on this site, contact Counselling Services for guidance at 364-2163 or email@example.com
- If the student appears reluctant, you can help by:
- Offering to contact the resource on their behalf while they are in your office
- Offering to sit with the student while they make the initial contact themselves
- Accompanying the student to the appointment if appropriate and you feel comfortable
- Provide the student with take-away materials and information (contact numbers, locations, etc.)
- Offer to follow-up with the student, but don’t insist on knowing what the student has done.
If a student says “No” to a referral
- Respect their decision. Accepting or refusing assistance must be left up to the student, except in emergencies, when life is in danger. In those circumstances, call 911.
- Don’t force the issue or trick them into going.
- Try and leave the door open for later reconsideration. Example: "I respect your decision. I hope you will keep these options in mind. My door is always open."