Supporting Students - Information for Faculty/Staff

Click here for a list of Resources For Students In Difficulty


Faculty and staff are often in positions to identify students who experience personal difficulty. Recognizing the signs of distress and responding with care and concern could prove to be a significant factor in helping students resolve problems that could potentially interfere with their academic and personal success.

Signs of distress are behavioural indicators that can appear on their own or in combination and in varying magnitude. Recognizing the signs as different to how a student usually behaves is important. Talking to someone about your instinct that a student is in difficulty is critical.

  • Changes in mood or behaviour: withdrawal, extreme sadness, anger, anxiety, disruptive behaviour, unprovoked hostility or anger

  • Performance or academic indicators: deteriorating academic performance, unexplained absences, missed assignments and deadlines, disruptive or unusual classroom behaviour

  • Personal indicators: expressing a need for help, feelings of sadness or distress, helplessness, or worthlessness

  • Physical indicators: deterioration in appearance, lack of personal hygiene, excessive fatigue and irritability.


If you notice these signs, and believe that a student may be in difficulty, contact the Office of Student Affairs at 905.828.3872 for advice and/or further direction.




Listen carefully to the student as s/he describes the situation. Take the situation seriously and non-judgmentally, and show concern using supportive communication.

Acknowledge the student’s thoughts and feelings. Ask questions to clarify that you understand his/her specific needs.

Set aside personal judgment, biases and assumptions to determine what the student needs from you, and how you can be most helpful.

Do not promise confidentiality.


Describe to the student what it is that you hear him/her saying. This is reassurance that you are truly listening, and will help you to identify the source of distress. Try not to diagnose the student. Based upon what has been shared, offer suggestions as to what you think the problem might be. Ask the student to clarify and/or confirm.

Offer your best suggestions to the students about how to help him/herself. If you believe that the student should speak to someone else, consider asking “Are you talking to anyone about this?” Encourage him/her to choose the most appropriate option, but do so in a manner that demonstrates your care, support and concern.

When advising a student to seek counseling, remember that doing so is optional. As the university, we cannot require/mandate a student to engage in therapeutic/psychological care in this manner. Do not use deception or tricks to convince the student to seek help – supporting his/her independent decision to speak with a professional is the best option.

Try to communicate that your recommendation for the student to seek counseling is based upon your judgment and observed behaviours. Be specific about the behaviours, and avoid generalizing the health of the individual.


Let the student know why you aren’t the appropriate person to speak to. Honestly acknowledging your own limitations can help to build rapport and trust. Reassure the student that the staff in both Student Affairs and the Health & Counselling Centre work with students with a wide range of concerns – and that we are often best equipped to help individuals before the situation grows in complexity or severity.

Sometimes, helping a student decide to contact a counselor or other professional can take some work. Often this is because of fear or apprehension about seeking additional help. Consider the potential of the following supportive phrases to help overcome the fear:

  • “We all need some kind of help at some time, even if it is only talking to someone who can listen without criticism."

  • “Seeking help is a sign of strength and courage rather than a sign of weakness or failure.”

  • “It is a sign of increasing maturity when a person knows when it is time to seek some help."

  • “Seeking professional help for other problems (e.g., medical, legal, car problems) is considered good judgment and an appropriate use of resources. If you had a broken arm, you would go to a doctor rather than set it yourself.”

  • “The services at the Health & Counselling Centre are free and confidential.”

  • “Counselling has been helpful to others like yourself. You can try it and see if it helps.”

Share whatever information you have about the Office of Student Affairs or the Health & Counselling Centre to help alleviate fear and apprehension. Consider visiting both offices so that you have an understanding of what the student will experience should s/he pursue contact or assistance.

Remember that the decision to see a counselor can be a big decision for many people.
As such, consider giving the student some time to think it over. Even if the student says that s/he does not want to speak with a counselor, more time to consider the option could be needed.

Know your own limitations, and consult with Student Affairs (905.828.3872) or the Health & Counselling Centre (905.828.5255) to determine what referral is appropriate.


If the student appears hesitant or reluctant, acknowledge those feelings and understand that your focus is now more likely to help the student overcome that apprehension. To do so, you can:

  • Offer to contact the resource yourself while the student is still in your office
  • Offer to sit with the student while s/he places the initial contact call
  • Offer to accompany the student to the resource

Offer to follow up with the student to ensure that referrals were appropriate.

If you are going to bring a student directly to a support service, calling ahead to let the appropriate staff know that you are coming with a student in distress will help prepare for an effective referral.
Even if the student does not appear ready to access support resources, and you are still concerned, inform the Office of Student Affairs (905.828.3872) in order to help facilitate the appropriate and relevant support services and potential response. Sometimes the issues and situation are complex, and the Office of Student Affairs is equipped to help frame and understand the entirety of the situation.

Except in emergencies, the options must be left open for the student to accept or deny counselling.


An EMERGENCY is defined as a situation in which a person's life is in immediate danger (e.g., suicidal or homicidal threat). In emergency situations involving students who are unwilling or unable to seek help on their own, faculty or staff members may call the Health & Counselling Centre, the Office of Student Affairs, or UTM Campus Police.

If you have any indication that the student will be of harm to him/herself, or others, it is your responsibility to take action and contact the appropriate university officials. However, do not compromise your own safety and security (both physical and emotional) in doing so.

Click here for a list of Resources For Students In Difficulty