All academic staff with teaching responsibilities are expected to take an interest in their students’ learning and to provide associated ‘pastoral care’. However, unless you have specific responsibilities for student-advising (in which case you will likely receive specialist training), it is generally not your role to counsel distressed students or support students to manage emotional or psychological difficulties. Students who may be experiencing difficulties are best referred to mental health and associated professional services for that support.
That said, mental health difficulties often impair a student’s ability to study effectively or complete their coursework. It IS therefore, within the academic teaching role to help students find strategies and support to manage the effects of mental health difficulties on their academic studies.
What is and isn’t your role in engaging with students in distress?
An experienced university counsellor offers advice on the role of academics in engaging with students who appear distressed or disclose sensitive personal information.
The Technical Stuff
As a general principle, the confidentiality of any sensitive information that a student discloses to you should be maintained. However, a duty of care to prevent harm or injury (to the student or others) can over-ride confidentiality.