Tips for responding to students

Recognising students in trouble


Possible signs that may indicate changes in mental health include:

  • Progressive or sudden deterioration in attendance, attention, participation or quality of work
  • Progressive or rapid deterioration in appearance (sad, ill, unkempt, dramatic increase or decrease in weight)
  • Deterioration in social behaviour. Unusual behaviour or appearance
  • Dramatic swings in expression of feeling or social engagement
  • Flat or exaggerated emotional responses that are inappropriate to the situation
  • Concerns expressed by peers
  • Seemingly outrageous claims or personal statements
  • Inappropriate or untimely responses
  • Something odd or unpredictable about their manner which makes you feel concerned or uneasy

Communicating with students who may be experiencing mental health difficulties


If you have concerns about a student's wellbeing it is important to broach the subject with them. Do not avoid the situation or pretend that nothing is wrong, but rather approach them in an empathetic and understanding way. People with mental health difficulties often experience rejection so establishing a good relationship with plenty of encouragement is very important.

The general principles of effective communication are useful in these circumstances. These principles are:

  • make sufficient time to talk to the student
  • talk in a private space
  • have a non-judgemental attitude
  • make sure you are actively listening and taking in what the student is saying
  • use open-ended questions and clarify anything you are unsure of

Simply asking a student 'how are you today?', gives them an opportunity to disclose information to you.

Confidentiality


Ensuring confidentiality is vital in encouraging students to seek help when appropriate.

However, it is important to state that there are also limits to confidentiality. As a general rule, if you have serious concerns about the student's safety or wellbeing, or the safety or wellbeing of others, you have a duty of care to disclose information.

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Referral


Teaching and counselling are very different roles. It is important to recognise your own boundaries and to refer to the Counselling and Disability Services when this is appropriate. Tutors and frontline staff are often the first point of contact for a student experiencing problems, so it is essential that you are aware of support networks and procedures.

The Counselling and Disability Service have a central contact line, 1300 668 370. Alternatively you can contact them at either counselling@westernsydney.edu.au or disability@westernsydney.edu.au.

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