Common signs & signals that a student may be in distress
- Decreased, disorganized performance;
- Frequently missed classes, appointments, and assignments;
- Repeated requests for academic considerations; and/or
- Themes in written or creative works reflect violence, threat, despair, hopelessness or suicidality.
- Indications of lack of personal hygiene, ability to care for self;
- Signs of lack of sleep, fatigue; and/or
- Indications of substance abuse.
- Change in style of interacting ( e.g. becoming withdrawn or much more outgoing, angry outbursts, tearfulness);
- Increase in the level of anxiety, stress; and/or
- Unusual or exaggerated emotional responses.
- Direct statement of the threat of harm to self or other; and/or
- Self-injurious behaviours ( e.b. visible cuts, scars, bruises)
- Other Indicators
- Other people – students, staff, and faculty express concern for the student;
- Direct statements by the student indicating a problem in their personal life;
- Loss- through death, relationship break-up, illness; and/or
- Your intuition that something is happening to the student.
Many students will experience these during their university careers. The presence of one of these indicators does not necessarily mean that the student is in serious difficulty. However, it is important to check it out with the student if you are concerned. The student may not immediately take you up on your offer, however, you have indicated your concern, which may help the student obtain assistance if and when it is needed.
Strategies for responding to students in distress
A student may reach out to you for help with personal problems, or you may become concerned about a student for some of the reasons outlined above. In either case, the following suggestions might help with the situation:
- Talk with the student in person.
- Talk in private ( unless it feels unsafe to do so).
- Stay calm and listen carefully.
- Express your concern for the student.
- Take the student seriously.
- Try to understand the student’s perspective without being judgmental.
- Be patient, allow the student or talk at the student’s own pace.
- Determine what the student wants/needs from you.
- Judge or minimize the student’s thoughts or feelings.
- Ask “why” because it can sound judgmental.
- Be defensive or personalize what the student is saying.
Be Aware of Your personal Limitations:
- Get other people involved; if possible, don’t deal with the crisis yourself.
- Don’t take on too much responsibility.
- Don’t make promises to the student that you may not be able to keep ( e.g. maintaining confidentiality if a student is unsafe).
How to intervene when there are indications of suicide risk
If you learn that a student is in the process of taking life-threatening action or is likely to do so imminently, call 911. It is probably more likely that you will encounter students who are considering suicide but who are not at the point of taking action. The following are some potential indicators that a student may be at risk of self-harm. (NOTE: This does not constitute a complete list. If you are uncertain about the risk of harm, consult with a Personal Counselling in AWC centre – 416-487-
- Feelings of hopelessness and a belief that things are out of control.
- A prior attempt.
- Direct or indirect suicidal threats.
- A specific plan.
- Chronic illness, fatigue.
- Severe depression.
- Feeling isolated.
- Family or relationship difficulties.
- Inconsolable grief.
- Financial stress.
- Alcoholism, regular use of other drugs.
- Family history of suicide.
Other sudden behavioural changes include over-elation, sudden calm, ignoring schoolwork, giving away valued personal possessions, or poor impulse control.
If you find yourself in a position of noticing the above in a student and you want to help, the suggestions given in the previous section, “Strategies for Responding to Students in Distress” are appropriate as general guidelines. When suicide is the concern, however, the best approach is to ask directly and caringly about the student’s intent. For example, you might say something like:
“Are you thinking about ending your life”?
“Are things so bad for you right now that you think suicide is the only answer?
The student hearing this will have found someone who cares and is willing to talk about this “taboo” subject. This is often a relief to the student, who then may be able to begin an exploration of alternatives and engage in some emotional release. However, it is important to convey to the student both your concern and the limitations of your role and to encourage the student to seek professional assistance.
Remember, whenever possible, don’t do this on your own – involve other people. You can:
Call 911 if there is immediate danger.
Bring the student to AWC centre if the student is willing and the situation is urgent;
Call us at 416-487-6709 to consult with a Personal counsellor if you would like to discuss aspects of assisting the student in getting professional help
Don’t make promises you can’t keep ( e.g. promising the student that you won’t tell anyone else that the student is thinking of suicide). If a student’s life is in danger, you will want to be able to tell relevant others to get the assistance needed.
How to refer students
How to Refer Students
Let the student know that you think they should get assistance from another source other than yourself. You may want to make a general statement such as:
“ You seem to be fairly upset about this and I think that you could use some help in sorting out these issues. I am concerned about you and I would like you to consider talking to one of the Personal Counsellor at the AWC centre”.
Be frank with the student about the limits of your time, ability, expertise and/or objectivity.
Listen to the student’s concerns about seeking help. Normalize the referral process. Assure the student that many students seek help over the course of their university career. Emphasize that personal counselling services are available and accessible to all currently enrolled students at Glendon with no user fees and that a student can check us out to see if counselling is right for them at a given time.
Inform the student that our services are confidential, and the student’s participation in our services does not get entered on the student record or transcript.
If the referral is rejected, don’t take it personally. Any given student may have some reasons for not seeking help.
Keep the lines of communication open. If possible and appropriately indicate to the student that they can remain in touch with you until a supportive relationship has been established at Counselling Services or elsewhere.
What to Expect When Referred for Personal Counselling
If the student is in crisis and requests a same-day appointment, they will be seen as soon as possible that day. Crisis intervention services are designed to assist students who are confronting life-threatening circumstances, current or recent traumatic experiences, or acute and overwhelming distress
Goals of Crisis Intervention
- Stabilize client and situation.
- Immediate safety of the client and/or others.
- Plan for next steps and follow up as needed.
Students not in immediate crisis are encouraged to make an initial appointment for personal counselling. We attempt to see students as soon as possible, but during our busiest time, there may be up to a two-week wait before counselling can begin.
Follow up: What You Can Expect From Us After Referring A Student
Due to our policy of maintaining confidentiality for our clients, unless the client gives us consent to speak with you, we will be unable to tell you anything about our contact with the student you have referred, including whether the student met with us. We recognize that this can be frustrating for the referring individual, who understandably wants to know that the student referred is receiving care. However, in order for students to feel comfortable using our services, we must maintain confidentiality in all but a few situations where we are legally and/or ethically obliged to break that confidentiality.