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Supporting Student Mental Health

If you are concerned about a student's mental health and well-being, you can make a referral to Student Mental Health Services.

The REACH guidelines are a very helpful tool that you can use to support your student's mental health.

REACH Guidelines

  • Recognize Warning Signs

    As a faculty or staff member, you are in a key position to see warning signs that may indicate that students are in need of assistance. While students have strengths and abilities that make them resilient to most life stressors, there may be times when these stressors become overwhelming and affect their academic performance. You may observe students:

    • Displaying extreme disorganization or inappropriate content of written assignments.
    • Expressing thoughts of despair or harm to self or others through submitted work/email.
    • Missing classes, labs, assignments, and exams.
    • Showing a significant decline in the quality of academic performance or class participation.

    Visible Signs

    The student shows...

    • A change in appearance (e.g., extreme fatigue, lack of personal hygiene).
    • Aggressive behaviour (e.g., physical threat of harm).
    • Burn marks, cuts or scars.
    • Mood disturbance (e.g., extreme irritability that is difficult to redirect).
    • Panic or anxious behaviour (e.g., difficulties breathing, trembling, sweating).
    • Risky behaviour (e.g., incoherent or unresponsive due to excessive alcohol or drug use).
    • Tearfulness or difficulties making eye contact.

    Verbal Signs

    The student shows...

    • Delusional beliefs or hallucinations.
    • Difficulties in communication (e.g., speech is disorganized or slurred).
    • Experiences of harassment, bullying or abuse (e.g., sexual, physical or verbal abuse).
    • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
    • Thoughts of suicide or harm to others.
    • Worries about coping with life stressors (e.g., trauma, grief, health issue).

    Emotional Signs

    The faculty/staff...

    • Has an instinct that something is wrong
    • Senses isolation and withdrawal

    It is important to note that everyone experiences most of the feelings and behaviours noted above. However, when there is a combination of warning signs, you sense the student withdrawing/isolating or there is an instinctive feeling that something is wrong, it is important to engage students in conversation about these warning signs and focus on connecting them to the help they need.

  • Engage the Student

    Everyone has different levels of comfort and expertise when approaching students with potential mental health concerns. The following steps may be taken to engage students when you recognize signs of distress.

    Steps

    Approach

    If you have a good rapport with students and feel comfortable meeting them privately, approach and address your concerns in a positive and direct manner.

    Engage with students and focus on specific behaviours or observations. Some students may choose not to engage and in that case, respect their decisions and invite them to talk with you when they are ready.

    • “I’ve noticed that two of your assignments haven’t been completed. I’m concerned about you.”
    • “I’ve noticed some changes that concern me. I’d like to invite you to my office to talk.”
    • “It looks like you’ve been under a lot of stress; how are you feeling?”

    Listen

    Show interest and listen actively to let students know that they are cared about. When appropriate, make eye contact and avoid looking at distractors such as phones or emails. Ask questions to clarify or gain more information/insights into the cause of the distress. Summarize and reflect back what the students have said to ensure that the information is accurate.

    • “It sounds like you’re worried about school.”
    • “Is it accurate to say that you’ve been feeling overwhelmed?”
    • “What I’m hearing you say is that________________.”

    Support

    Acknowledge the challenges that students are experiencing. Show kindness and a non-judgemental attitude. Offer hope and reassure students that resources are available.

    • “I’d like to support you.”
    • “You don’t have to go through this on your own.”
    • “There are services available through Student Life that can help.”

    Within your role, you may be able to resolve students’ concerns directly by providing an extension or an alternative assignment if you deem it appropriate. If you are not able to assist directly, proceed to Step 3 and Step 4.

    • “I can help you.”
    • “I am able to consider these options:________.”
    • “I can make the following arrangements:___________.”
  • Assess Risk Levels

    Assessing the risk level will determine the type of assistance required. The level of risk is determined by two factors:

    • The likelihood of the student causing harm to self or others.
    • The immediacy of response time required to remove the threat of harm.

    High Risk Level

    There is a high risk level if students engage in behaviours or disclose information where there is reasonable belief that there is an imminent risk of harming themselves or others, and assistance is required immediately. In addition, there is a high-risk level where there is an escalation in behaviours that are disruptive, aggressive and unresponsive to intervention. Examples include:

    • Suicide attempt - A student expresses an immediate suicide plan or a suicide attempt has been made. Expressions can occur in person or through email, written assignments or social media.
    • Threatening behaviour - A student expresses plans to harm another person through email, written assignments or social media. Threatening behaviour includes verbally/physically aggressive behaviour causing others to feel threatened.
    • Misuse of substances - A student is unresponsive or incoherent due to misuse of drugs or alcohol.

    Medium Risk Level

    There is a medium risk level in situations where students require immediate assistance but there is no imminent risk that they may harm themselves or others. Examples include:

    • Panic attacks - A student is showing signs that they may be having a panic attack. Signs include shortness of breath, racing heart rate, chest pain, trembling, sweating, nausea, feeling faint, numbness or tingling sensations, hot/cold flashes, or fearing of losing control.
    • Thoughts of suicide - A student expresses suicidal thoughts through direct or indirect statements. They may express preoccupation with death or have thoughts that life is not worth living.
    • Tearful or overwhelmed - A student is tearful and expresses loss of hope or difficulties coping.

    Low Risk Level

    There is a low level of risk in situations where students are not in immediate risk of harm but would benefit from getting support to cope with stressors they are experiencing. These stressors often impact students’ abilities to manage their academic work and can include:

    • Culture shock - A student experiences challenges due to transitions and changes that can include different living conditions, cultural expectations, homesickness or language barriers.
    • Family and relationships issues - A student is experiencing difficulties with family (e.g., interpersonal or cultural conflict with family, divorce, death of a family member) and other relationships (e.g., interpersonal conflict with friends, partners or roommates; physical, sexual or verbal abuse).
    • Hopelessness and sadness - A student has feelings of hopelessness and sadness, particularly if these feelings last for an extended period of time and affect the student’s ability to live.
    • Sexuality - A student has questions or require resources related to sexual health, expression, intimacy or identity including the LGBTQ+ community.
    • Sleep problems - A student’s sleep is often affected (e.g., too much or too little) when they are experiencing difficulties and this impacts their ability to cope.
    • Stress or test anxiety - A student expresses being worried about their ability to cope with any aspects of their lives such as the future, finances or getting good marks. In particular, some students may experience test anxiety that significantly impacts their academic performance.

    Daily stressors are a part of life and everyone experiences them differently depending on their internal and external resources. Not everyone experiencing life stressors is in need of counselling and all students have the capacity for resilience. However, a combination of warning signs may indicate that students are having difficulties and would benefit from support before the situation becomes a crisis.

  • Connect to Help

    Assessing the risk level will determine the type of assistance required. The level of risk is determined by two factors:

    • The likelihood of the student causing harm to self or others.
    • The immediacy of response time required to remove the threat of harm.

    Helping students in imminent risk of harm

    Campus Security (905.721.3211 or ext. 2400) or Call 911

    All situations where students are in imminent risk of harm to themselves or others should be dealt with as an emergency by contacting either Campus Security (905.721.3211 or ext. 2400) if the student is on campus or 911 if the student is off-campus. They will assess the situation and when appropriate, engage crisis response personnel who can help students seek required medical and psychiatric interventions at local hospitals or community agencies.

    Helping students in distress

    Student LifeLine (905.721.3392) or Student Mental Health Services drop-in hours

    For students in distress, you may call the Student LifeLine (905.721.3392). A live person will be available to engage the necessary supports to de-escalate the situation. They may ask you a series of questions to assess the risk level including location, severity of the distress, previous history if available and situational context.

    You may also accompany students to Student Mental Health Services during drop-in hours (U5 Building, call the Student LifeLine at 905.721.3392 for current hours).

    For medical support, visit the Campus Health Centre between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. (North Location - CRWC, 905.721.3037)

    Helping students in need of mental health support

    Student LifeLine (905.721.3392) or refer to Student Mental Health Services

    For students in need of support, you may consult with the Student LifeLine. You may also make a referral to Student Mental Health Services.

    Make a referral

    REFER A STUDENT TO MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

    • Whenever possible, complete the referral with students and ensure they have the contact information for Student Mental Health Services.
    • When completing the referral form, write down the reason for the referral based on what you observe and what students share with you. Avoid labelling or diagnosing students unless that information is shared with you. For example, you may write “The student reported that she is experiencing family conflict and she is taking medication for depression.” instead of “The student is depressed.”
    • If students are reluctant to complete a referral, validate their concern and remind them that they don’t have to manage their challenges on their own. Reassure students that free and confidential support is available.
    • If students decline the referral, respect their decision and invite them to connect with you again.

Additional Resources

Campus Connected

Staff and faculty can consider being part of Campus Connected, an initiative that builds a caring university community. Visit the Campus Connected page to learn more about the initiative and how to engage with students.

REGISTER FOR CAMPUS CONNECTED 

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