Action Step 3: Refer
You are not expected to take on the role of a counsellor, but you can refer students to services that can help them. You should familiarize yourself in advance with the resources available on and near campus.
Explain the limitations of your knowledge and experience and tell the student that the referral resource has the capacity to assist the student in a more appropriate manner.
When referring a student to external services:
- Provide the name, phone number, and office location of the referral resource. You can also walk the student to the university's counselling or health services offices if you are concerned s/he won't follow up. As much as possible, try to normalize the need to ask for help. It is helpful if you know the names of the staff and can speak highly of them. Convey a spirit of hopefulness and remind the student that troublesome situations can and do get better.
- Realize that your offer of assistance may be rejected. The student may not want to talk to a professional about what s/he are experiencing. Take time to listen to the student's fears and concerns about seeking help. Let the student know that it is because of your concern for her/him that you are offering a referral.
- Even if the student chooses not to follow through on the referral, it is important to end the conversation in a way that will allow you, or the student, to come back to the subject at another time. Keep the lines of communication open. Invite the student back to follow up.
- If you have an urgent concern about a student's safety, stay with her/him and notify health services or call campus security/local police.
- If you are concerned about your safety, call campus security/local police for immediate assistance.
Distressed and Distressing?
Sometimes when students are distressed, they act out in ways that are inappropriate or even disruptive. If you have a student who exhibits this kind of behaviour, communicate your observations to your university's counselling or health services staff. They will help connect the student with appropriate resources and support you in maintaining your desired classroom environment. It would also be useful to seek advice/support from someone in your academic department. Disruptive behaviour is not always a sign of a mental health problem, so it may not be appropriate to address the problem through counselling or health services. Even in cases where disruptions are the result of a mental illness, your academic department can help you address safety, security, and other concerns. Finally, if you are aware that the student is registered with your accessibility office, you can also reach out to her/his disability counsellor for advice and assistance.
You can play a vital role in promoting campus mental health by taking action when you notice someone exhibiting the signs of mental illness. By working with other members of the university community, you can help at-risk students connect with the services they need. As such, you may help them avoid considerable harm. It is important, though, to respond in ways that do not compromise anyone's safety. If you believe that a student poses an immediate danger to her/himself, you, or others, contact campus security/local police immediately.