How and When to Refer Students for Counselling
A Practical Guide for Staff and Faculty
- Any overt expression of thought or intent to harm self or others, including pets
- Change in demeanor…student is more quiet or more aggressive, mood appears sad, “low,” irritable, agitated, anxious or restless
- Negative change in quality of work or performance in class, on assignments, in athletics or other types of performance
- Missed assignments or appointments
- Disorganized or erratic performance that is uncharacteristic of the student
Essays, art or other creative work that contains themes of hopelessness, social isolation, rage, despair
- Deterioration of physical appearance or personal hygiene
- Excessive fatigue, diminished or greatly increased appetite (visible changes in weight)
- Change in sleeping patterns
- Appearing bleary-eyed or smelling of alcohol/drugs
- Direct statements indicating distress, family problems or other difficulties
- Unprovoked anger or hostility
- Irritability or constant anxiety
- More withdrawn or more energetic than usual
- Persistent sadness or tearfulness
- Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness.
“At Risk” Factors
- Essays or papers that focus on despair, suicide or death
- Statements to the effect that student is “going away for a long time”
- Giving away possessions
- Severe depression
- Self-injurious or self-destructive behaviour
- Other behaviour that appears out of control
Other Factors to Consider
- Drop in grades/GPA
- Personal losses: e.g., death of family member, loved one; break-up of a relationship
- Failures in class, athletics or other types of performance; rejection
- Expressions of concern about a student by peers
- Your own hunch or ‘gut’ reaction that something is wrong
What to Do
Make contact: Tell the student you need to see him or her; talk with the student in person.
Calmly express your concern; tell the student you are worried and why.
- “In your essay, you write about death and dying. It seems to me that you’ve looked sad lately. I wanted to check in with you and see if everything’s OK.”
- “You haven’t seemed yourself lately. You’ve been missing class (assignments) and I wondered if there’s something getting in the way of your being here (completing the homework).”
- “This is really a difficult time for you. WE can figure this out. WE can get some help from a counsellor who knows more about this. Let’s walk down there together (phone the Counseling Centre). I think they’ll be able to help.”
Be aware of your role and what you can do to help the student. For example, you can express your concern. You can listen and be supportive, help with decision-making and make referrals.
Be aware of your limitations. You are faculty/staff and you do not have to assume the role of counsellor. You can let the student know that you care and will, therefore, make the referral to counselling.