Things to keep in mind when referring a student

Encouraging a student to seek support

A student may not know help is available or may hesitate to ask for it. Point out to the student that help is available and seeking help is a sign of strength. At the same time, acknowledge that seeking help can be scary.

It is equally important that you explain to the student the limitations of your knowledge and experience and refer the student to the appropriate support resource. (Please see below for comprehensive lists of services at St. George, UTM and UTSC.) When possible, provide the student with referral material or make a phone call from your office to a service. Encourage the student to contact one of the resources that you mention.

If a student appears reluctant, you can help by:

  • offering to contact the resource on their behalf while they are in your office
  • offering to sit with the student while they make the initial contact themselves

Listen to the student’s concerns about seeking help. Normalize the referral process, making it clear that you’re wanting the student to see a counsellor does not mean that you think that there is something wrong with the student. To prevent the student from feeling stigmatized, don’t try to diagnose or label the student. Emphasize that campus services are free and easy to access, and that the student can check them out to see if it is helpful, without any obligations to continue. Above all, keep the lines of communication open.

Prioritize Self-Care

We all need to value and take time in our busy day to care for our own mental well-­being. For students, staying well is key to making the most of their university life/experience and achieving their personal and academic goals. Stress is unavoidable, and not always negative; stress can be a powerful motivator. By prioritizing self-­‐care–getting adequate sleep, eating a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, and nurturing trusting and supportive relationships–students may enhance their ability to cope effectively with periods of more intense stress.

Encourage help-­‐seeking behaviour as a strength and an important aspect of self-­care. There are resources available to help students cope with various challenges and stressors. Encourage students to explore strategies to cope with stress through programs such as time management workshops at the Academic Success Centre; mindfulness meditation at Hart House, the Multi-­faith Centre or Health and Wellness Centre; making friends and building networks of support through involvement in student groups, work study opportunities, or volunteering; and, stress management workshops offered through various areas within Student Life.

Finding the appropriate service or resource

There are many services and resources available on and off campus to which you can refer a student in distress. Consult the list of resources at each of the three campuses—St. George (UTSG), University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) and University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC)—as well as many community services which are listed at the back of this guide.

Who can students talk to? There are many different professionals at the University who could offer support and guidance. The key is to normalize help-­‐seeking behaviours and talking to specialists. Encourage students to ask for help early and often as early intervention is key to success. There are many different people who can offer assistance to a student:

  • Campus Chaplains
  • Commuter dons
  • Counsellors
  • Deans of Students
  • Dieticians
  • Doctors/Nurses
  • Elders at First Nations House
  • Learning Strategists
  • Mentors
  • Psychologists
  • Registrar’s Office
  • Residence Life staff and dons
  • Student Life Staff
  • Transition Advisors at the Centre for International Experience
  • Undergraduate Advisors
  • And many more…

If a student doesn’t want help

Do not take it personally if your offer for referral is rejected by the student. It remains the right and responsibility of the student to access supports. Restate your concern and recommendation that the student access support services. However, make sure that you respect their decision. Don’t force the issue or trick them into going to a referred resource.
Accepting or refusing assistance must be left up to the student, except in emergencies.

Acknowledge that it is the student’s choice to take the referral and reinforce that taking that step may help them reach positive change. You might want to offer to meet with the student again once they have had time to think about this decision. It can help to keep the lines of communication open. You can invite the student back to follow up. In such instances, the key is to leave room for reconsideration later on.

“I respect your decision. I hope you will keep these options in mind. My door is always open.”

“I respect your decision. But please keep in mind that there are many valuable services around campus available to you.”

Following Up

If possible, follow up with the student but don’t insist on knowing what the student has done. Although you might feel responsible for the student and want to find out what happened and whether or not the student received help, you have no right to know. It is important that you avoid stigmatizing the student or asking any questions about the type of help or resources that the student sought. Be comfortable with the student who doesn’t want to disclose any details about their situation as well as potential diagnosis and/or treatment.

“How are things since our talk last week?”

“I’d really like to hear how things are going with you. Would you feel comfortable checking back?”

“I am still here to listen and help.”

“Were you able to find help?”