Students Experiencing Difficulty:
A student experiencing difficulty is one who encounters major obstacles to the successful completion of their academic program. While it is typical for students to experience university as a time of significant stress and change, it can become so severe that it poses a threat to academic progress. Faculty and staff are often in a position to identify students experiencing difficulty and can provide the early intervention that is critical in preventing students from leaving school or demonstrating behaviour that may escalate.
The following guidelines outline various types of students experiencing difficulty, when professional assistance may be appropriate and beneficial, how to make a referral, seek consultation or contact emergency services as needed.
Signs that a Student may be at Risk:
While the following indicators are important when evaluating a student’s need for assistance, it is important to consider everything known about the student in order to avoid over-interpretation of what may be an isolated incident.
2. Marked Changes in Mood or Behaviour – Actions inconsistent with a student’s typical behaviour may indicate psychological distress such as: withdrawal from social interaction and academic work, disruptive behaviour, noticeable changes in energy level and personal hygiene, spells of crying, outbursts and irritability
3. Difficulties Communicating and/or Distortions of Reality – Irrational conversation, disjointed thoughts or speech, hallucinations, disturbing material in academic assignments and/or bizarre behaviours may be indicative of severe psychological problems
4. Significant Changes in Personal or Cultural Relationships and Identity – A traumatic change which impacts an individual’s personal relationship and issues of personal, sexual and cultural identity may result in increased stress and conflict
6. Health Concerns – Acute and chronic health issues may impact a student’s progress, their ability to fully engage in the university experience and their ability to cope
7. Academic Difficulties – Students experiencing excessive pressure to succeed and fear of academic failure may find assistance beneficial to their decision-making process
8. Learning Skills Issues – Difficulties keeping up with course work, inadequate preparation for exams, incapacitating anxiety or problems with concentration are all issues that require attention and referral to appropriate campus services
If you are not sure how to approach a student who may be experiencing difficulty or how to handle a situation that has the potential to escalate, seek consultation. Resource for consultation on campus include the Student Counselling Centre (ext 4616), Student Disability Services (ext 3288), or Student Health Services (ext 7002). You may also want to review the document Identifying and Referring Students in Distress: An Information Booklet for Faculty and Staff. There is also an accessible (text only) version of Identifying and Referring Students in Distress: An information Booklet for Faculty and Staff.
How to Intervene with a Student Experiencing Difficulty:
If you determine it is necessary and appropriate to approach a student of concern, the following suggestions might make the interaction more comfortable for you and helpful to the student.
Listen to the student and give them private, undivided attention. Often, a few minutes of effective listening is sufficient to help a student feel heard and empowered to make appropriate decisions
Acknowledge the student’s concerns and try to communicate by reflecting back the essential message of what the student has shared with you.
Express Concern without generalizing or making assumptions about the student and their behaviour.
Offer Hope and reassure the student that resources to help are available to them. The purpose of offering hope is to provide enough so that the student is able to consult a professional or other appropriate person and not to minimize or solve the student’s problems.
Situations that Require Immediate Referral:
Steps for Making a Referral:
When it is necessary to make a referral, it is important to emphasize that help is necessary and available and that seeking such help is a sign of courage, good judgment and appropriate decision making.
Except in emergencies the option must be left open for the student to accept or refuse the referral. In an emergency (if the student appears to be at imminent risk or is exhibiting threatening behaviour) contact Campus Police (x 4444) if the student is on campus, and Windsor Police if the student is off-campus.
How to approach the student:
Setting healthy Limits
When assisting students experiencing difficulty, it is important to know your own limits and to not extend yourself beyond your comfort level. If problems are beyond your scope, it is important to consult with your colleagues and other campus resources as part of your own self-care.