How should you respond to students needing support?
The first step is to talk to the student in order to find out more about his/her situation. You may discover that the student is already seeing a counsellor, member of the Student Disability Advice Team, psychiatrist, doctor or other member of the Student Support Team. Showing your concern may reassure the student and allay your own worries.
If you are not reassured by your conversation with the student, or you are unable to get the student to talk to you, then you need to consider how best to proceed. There are two main courses of action open to you: to point the student to an appropriate source of help, or to offer support yourself.
There is a range of student support services available at the University of Bath, each offering a slightly different kind of specialist advice. It can sometimes be difficult to know which is the most appropriate in any given situation.
Information to help you guide the student to the appropriate service is given on the Student Services website.
What is most important is that you encourage the student to make contact with a service that is acceptable to him or her. Wherever possible you should encourage students to take the initiative by contacting the service on their own behalf. Students who seek support themselves are more likely to benefit from that support than those who are pushed into doing so.
There may be times when the student finds it very difficult to make the first move, particularly when he or she is very depressed. In such circumstances it may be helpful if you take a more active role by telephoning, writing, or emailing the service to make an appointment for the student.
Having talked with the student about his/her problems, you may feel that you can support them yourself. In many cases all that is required is to listen, to provide reassurance and to offer practical advice. Do not panic just because a student bursts into tears; tears are a reaction to an intense feeling but do not necessarily indicate an urgent need for professional help. At this point a few minutes of your time and your reassurance may be all that is required.
Providing emotional support for students can, however, be very demanding; before you do so make sure that you have enough time, that you have the appropriate skills, knowledge and understanding and that you know to whom to turn for advice if you need it. Offering support to help the student manage their course work is relevant, but make it clear that you are not able to offer help with their personal or psychological problems. Counsellors, doctors or Disability Advice staff may sometimes contact a Personal Tutor (with the permission of the student) to discuss ways of helping a student to manage their work during an emotional crisis or period of illness.
It is very important both for your sake and that of the student that you do not let yourself get out of your depth or lose sight of the boundaries of your role in relation to the student. Your help and support can be both valuable and very important in helping a student to reach their potential but some students need to be encouraged to take responsibility for themselves.
Very occasionally students behave in ways which give rise to serious concern, eg:
- suicidal tendencies
- risk of self-harm or harm to others
- serious physical illness
- alcohol or substance abuse or addiction
- hearing voices or holding fixed irrational beliefs
- a complete lack of functioning academically or in other areas of life.
In such cases the need for intervention on behalf of the student may be urgent. If the student will accept help then refer him/her to the Medical Centre, ideally by supporting the student to refer him/herself (perhaps allowing them to phone from your office), or by making an appointment on his/her behalf or, if necessary, accompanying the student to the Centre.
If the student will not accept help then you should phone the Medical Centre and seek the advice of a doctor. In the very rare situations where you believe there is imminent danger of harm to self or others, call the emergency services straightaway on 999. It is also advisable to inform the Security Office on their urgent extension: 666 (or 01225 383 999 from an external line), as Security Officers will be able to direct the emergency services to the correct location on campus.
When a student will not accept help
Except in the circumstances described above there is little that can or should be done if a student is not prepared to talk to you about his or her problems or to seek help from others. However, it is good practice to make sure that there is a note of concerns in the relevant departmental files and that the student's Director of Studies is informed that there may be a problem.
When a student is temporarily absent
When a student's absence has been noted over a two week period it is advisable that the Director of Studies is informed. It is suggested that the student's absence should be followed up by a letter from the Department to his or her semester address, and, failing a response, by recorded delivery to the home address. Missing Student Protocol.
When a student is absent over a prolonged period
When a student is absent from his or her taught course for a prolonged period, it is necessary to initiate a Change of Circumstances form in consultation with the Director of Studies (see www.bath.ac.uk/student-records/sreo.bho/sreoae.htm) . This will automatically result in the student's LEA being informed.