It is important to know from day one in an academic position when to seek advice and assistance from others about how to handle a situation involving a distressed student, and who is best placed to provide that advice or assistance.

When to seek advice or assistance?

In order to assist a student who may be experiencing mental health difficulties it is wise to consult with colleagues or mental health professionals IF:

  • The situation is unclear or you don’t know the student well enough to assess their behaviour
  • You do not know what to do or what options are available to the student
  • You want to talk through how you are managing a situation
  • You believe the student is at immediate risk
  • You believe there is an imminent risk of harm to others
  • You feel overwhelmed or out of your depth
  • You feel sad or cannot stop thinking about the personal circumstances of the student
  • You think you would find it helpful to do so.

Who to approach for advice or assistance?

Departments differ in their official processes for responding to distressed students. They might have a specific hotline for academic teachers to use, or a specific person who is nominated to be available to answer academics’ queries. Ask your Head of Department about the processes in your department and who you can contact when you need advice or assistance in relation to a student who may be experiencing mental health difficulties.
Experienced academic colleagues are likely to be your best source of such advice and support – they do not need to be in your department or even at the same university. Some other potential suggestions for people who might offer useful support include professionals in student advisory services as well as disability liaison or university counselling and health services.

Contacting your university counselling service or Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Whether you need to debrief following a difficult conversation with a student, seek advice on how to manage a student’s behaviour, or refer a student for professional assistance, your university counselling service is an important resource. Some universities support staff through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which includes externally provided counselling support. The EAP is usually accessed through Human Resources and is confidential and free to the staff member.

Hear from an experienced counsellor on how counselling services can support academic educators.

Hear from Dr Jenny English, Psychologist and Academic Work Coach.
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