Student Counselling - Information for Staff referring Students

Recognising and Referring Students at Risk: Enhancing Student Retention

Identifying a Student at Risk

Being at University is a unique, challenging and stressful experience. Most students experience stress during the course of their university career, and while many cope successfully, others may need additional support. First year students in particular, may not have adequate academic or interpersonal skills and may not be sufficiently assertive to approach their lecturers when in difficulty.

Because lecturers assess students' work on a regular basis and tutors work with small groups of students, they are well placed to recognise and refer students who are at risk. Other staff and senior students such as Residential Assistants who come into close contact with students may also identify students at risk. The following guidelines may be helpful.

Some Signs and Symptoms of Students at Risk

Indicators Associated with Academic Performance
  • Excessive procrastination and very poorly prepared work, especially if this is inconsistent with previous work.
  • Assignments that are inappropriately personal.
  • Repeated requests for special consideration, eg deadline extensions.
  • Infrequent class attendance with little or no work completed. This is particularly significant when previous attendance has been good.
  • Inability to stay in the lecture - student may leave abruptly after looking uncomfortable and tense.
  • Behaviour which regularly interferes with the decorum or effective management of your class.
  • Dependency, eg the student who hangs around you, tries to make excessive appointments to see you, or phones/emails you much more frequently than the average student.
  • Inability to make decisions despite your repeated attempts to clarify and to encourage.
  • Intense anxiety when having to approach you.
  • Listlessness, lack of energy, or frequently falling asleep in class.
Personal/Social Indicators:
  • Being hung over or under the influence of alcohol/other substances, particularly early in the day.
  • Marked changes in grooming or personal hygiene.
  • Dramatic weight loss or weight gain.
Unusual Behaviour/Emotion:
  • Over the top behaviour - grandiose, sudden over-confidence and over- familiarity.
  • Impaired speech or garbled, disjointed thoughts.
  • High levels of irritability, including unruly, aggressive, violent or abrasive behaviour.
  • Bizarre or strange behaviour which is obviously inappropriate to the situation, eg talking to "invisible" people, giggling or gesturing which is very inappropriate.
  • Normal emotions that are displayed to an extreme degree or for a prolonged period of time, eg fearfulness, tearfulness, nervousness.
Possible Harm to Self/Others:
  • Explosive outburst of tearfulness/aggression.
  • Homicidal threats.
  • Self denigration or very poor self-confidence.
  • Expressions of feelings of hopelessness.
  • Preoccupation with death and dying.
  • Overtly suicidal thoughts, eg referring to suicide as a current option.

Guidelines for Interacting With a Student at Risk

If in doubt - ask the student whether they are okay. An expression of concern may provide an opening for them to tell you of their distress.

  • Talk to the student in private or in the presence of their support person.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Show concern and interest.
  • Repeat back the essence of what the student has told you.
  • Avoid criticising or sounding judgmental.
  • Consider the Health and Counselling Centre as a resource and discuss referral with the student.
  • Give the student a copy of our service brochure.
  • Ask about the student's perceptions of what Health and Counselling is and try to dispel myths.
  • If the student resists help and you are worried, contact Health and Counselling Centre to discuss your concerns.
  • Involve yourself only as far as you want to go. Extending oneself can be a gratifying experience when kept within realistic limits.
  • Remember, you don't have to solve the problems for the student.

 How to make a Referral to the Health and Counselling Service

  • Suggest that the student call us on the phone or come in to make an appointment. Give the Health and Counselling Centre phone number and location at that time.
  • If you wish to assist the student directly, phone our receptionist, while the student is with you in order to ensure that an appointment is made. Write down the appointment information (time, date, counsellor and location) for the student.
  • If the situation is an emergency, follow the rule above, but state that the student needs an appointment immediately.
  • Sometimes it may be useful or necessary for you to walk the student over to the Health and Counselling Centre. Students value additional assistance when appropriate.
  • If you are concerned about a student but are uncertain about the appropriateness of a referral, feel free to call Health and Counselling for a consultation. We would rather see a student unnecessarily than not see someone who needs our help.

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