Assisting a student in need

Find tips and strategies for identifying students who may be in distress and how to support and refer

If you are concerned about a student, don’t let uncertainty stop you from taking action. Begin by recognizing signs that a student may be in distress.

Signs of concern

Most students will pass through university without significant or prolonged difficulties.  

What we want to look for are significant changes in a student’s work habits, behaviours, performance and attendance.  The following is a list of a few indicators:

  • Uncharacteristically poor academic performance.
  • Isolation or social withdrawal (e.g. previously involved student stops attending classes).
  • Changes in appearance or hygiene
  • Changes in concentration, motivation, memory
  • Creation or distribution of concerning communications (e.g. emails or assignments contain worrisome content).
  • Expressed feelings of hopelessness or despair or behaviours that indicate a likelihood of harm to self or others (e.g. suicidal ideation, verbal, written or creative work that includes plans to harm self and/or others).
  • Preoccupation with/or expressions of violence, or persons who have engaged in violent acts or weapons.

A student exhibiting troubling behaviours is likely having difficulties in various settings including other courses, with roommates, with family, and in other campus or social settings. Experienced staff are available to consult and to provide confidential advice and support.

Tips for supporting a student in need

    1. It’s okay to express concern.  It may feel awkward and embarrassing but better to have the conversation than to regret not doing so later.  Noticing when someone is struggling and having the confidence and courage to engage them is support.
    2. If possible, find a quiet, private time and place to have a conversation with the student.
    3. Talk to the student about what you have noticed that concerns you.  Use a calm, non-confrontational approach. Express your concern. State what you have observed.  Be specific about the behaviour.  Be careful about making assumptions.
    4. Listen openly and non-judgmentally to the student.  Being listened to can be a powerful experience.
    5. Acknowledge the student’s thoughts and feelings with compassion. 
    6. If the student appears very agitated take steps to ensure your personal safety in the environment. Ask if the student is already connected to one of UVic’s student services or a community resource (e.g., Counselling Services, Health Services, Centre for Accessible Learning (CAL), etc). If they are not already connected share with them the services that are available to them.
    7. Share information, and consult with appropriate university staff as necessary, while protecting identifiable student personal information,
    8. If needed, possible courses of action can be discussed with your supervisor/chair/dean, Campus Security, Student Affairs, Health Services, Counselling Services.
    9. When you are consulting, state what you have seen, focusing on observed behaviours. Do not attempt to diagnose.

Always report serious or persistent concerning student behaviour - WHEN IN DOUBT CONSULT

If a student approaches you seeking help, you can refer them to an appropriate support resource on campus.

Resources and support Phone Website
Campus Security and Personal Safety Coordinators 250-721-7599 www.uvic.ca/security  
UVic Counselling Services 250-721-8341 www.uvic.ca/services/counselling
UVic Health Services 250-721-8492 www.uvic.ca/services/health
Division of Student Affairs 250-721-6421 www.studentaffairs.uvic.ca
Centre for Accessible Learning 250-472-4947 www.uvic.ca/services/cal
Residence Services 250-721-8395 www.housing.uvic.ca
Office of Student Life 250-472-5617 www.uvic.ca/studentlife
Equity and Human Rights Office 250-721-7007 www.uvic.ca/eqhr 
Vancouver Island Crisis Line (24 hours) 1-888-494-3888