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Red Deer College

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Counselling Services

Counselling services and supports are inclusive, confidential, and available to all RDC students free of charge.

Supporting Students in Distress

Signs of a Student in Distress

In Person

•    Deterioration in quality of work
•    Missed assignments
•    A drop in grades
•    Repeated absences from class
•    Excessive dependency
•    Expressions of hopelessness, worthlessness, or despair
•    Expressions of concern by others
•    Excessive fatigue
•    Inappropriate emotional display
•    Very unusual behaviours or ideas
•    Disorganized or erratic behaviours
•    Appearing sick or ill
•   Any work that denotes a sense of finality, losing control, despair, suicide or death that is atypical for that student (especially if it is progressively getting more concerning)
•    Self-injurious and destructive behaviours
•    Unprovoked anger or hostility
•    A gut feeling that something is wrong with the student
•    Deterioration in appearance


Online

  • Discussion posts or emails becoming accusatory, manipulative, inappropriate, paranoid, confused, disoriented, bizarre, fantastical, or threatening
  • Stops responding to emails, phone calls, and not turning in work

 

 

What you, as a staff or instructor, can do to support a student in distress: 

1. Talk to the student promptly and in private.
2. State your observations and the reason for your concern gently, and honestly while avoiding assumptions.
3. Remind the student that there are resources available and people who want to help.
4. Know that the resource is not you alone. Maintain clear boundaries and refer to professional supports. 

If in doubt about the appropriate referral, phone or email Counselling Services for a consultation. 

  • Counselling Services is staffed with qualified and licensed individuals who offer free and confidential one on one counselling services to students as well as mental health training, groups, workshops, and a variety of resources. 

5. Confidentiality 

If Counselling Services deems the student’s behaviour as medium to high risk, relevant information may be shared, as appropriate, to mitigate this risk. In most cases, this occurs with signed permission from the student. Information about the student or confirmation that they are attending counselling is not released to faculty, staff, parents, or others unless signed permission is provided by the student.

6.  Support the student in the referral.  

*The gentle hand off* If you are comfortable, you may accompany the student to Counselling Services, look up resources with them, or assist them in making an appointment. Counselling, in these circumstances, is a suggestion and is never mandated. 

Student responses to faculty contact can range from relief, to panic, to defensiveness and anger. If anything in the conversation leads the faculty member to be alarmed or have increased concern about the student, then the student can be referred to Counselling Services, can be offered resources for supports, or the academic discipline process can be initiated.

What you, as a staff or instructor, can do to support a student at risk: 

Most of the time, students have the choice as to whether or not they will seek help. However, there are a few situations where the student is not making positive choices for themselves, and others must step in. This might be a student who is behaving irrationally, in a threatening manner, or cannot be consoled. Do not promise confidentiality in these situations. 

  • Counselling Services staff, security, and Health, Safety and Wellness are trained to assess the level of risk. We will ask you to provide as much information as possible.
    • Counselling Services: 403-343-4064
    • Campus Security Non-Emergency: 403-342-3445
    • Health, Safety and Wellness Office (403) 342-3427
  • If you are unable to get a student to either Counselling Services or to security (eg. after hours), having the student call or text the Alberta Mental Health Hotline or the Distress Line for Central Alberta and alerting a support person of their choice may be appropriate. Click here for a list of community resources.
    • Alberta Mental Health Hotline: 1-877-303-2642
    • Distress Line Central Alberta: 1-800-784-2433
  • Document the situation in detail, contact your supervisor and follow up.
If there is risk of or threat of violence to oneself or others:
  • Get yourself safe; ensure the safety of others if it poses no risk to yourself.
  • See Emergency Procedures for Lockdown card in your office on a regular basis. These are: 
    • Enter the nearest room:
      • Close, lock and barricade the door, turn off the lights and cover the windows.
      • Take shelter behind furniture and out of view.
      • Do not open the door to anyone.
    • If a secure room is not available and exiting is an option:
      • Do not pull the fire alarm.
      • Calmly exit the building.
      • Tell anyone that you see to evacuate.
      • Call 911.
      • Contact security: 403-343-4000.
    • When safe, yourself or someone else should:
      • If safe, escort the other students/staff/faculty out of the area. Offer assistance to those who have special needs.
      • One person could remain nearby to keep others from entering the area. 
Complete the steps below, if you are in no danger, while waiting for other professionals.
  • Contact the Manager and/or any other Counselling Services staff for support, consultation, and later debriefing.
  • Remain with the student in a quiet space/office with the door remaining open for safety. It is best to be near the door in order to get out quickly if needed. However, this could agitate the student if they feel “caged in”. Allow some space for them to have the option to leave the room.
  • Try to have the engage in calming activities, as appropriate (eg. breathing, visualization, calm music, fidgets, heavy lifting, mindfulness, using the logical brain- count by multiples of 7/say the alphabet backwards).
  • Allow qualified professionals take the lead once they arrive.
Review this sample conversation between an instructor and a student who may be in distress.

Dr. S has noticed that one of her students, Joseph, appears to be having difficulty. At the beginning of the semester he attended class regularly and came prepared for lectures and exams. About halfway through the semester, she noticed he missed several classes, and appeared distracted and exhausted when he did attend. Dr. S made the decision to approach Joseph as he was leaving class, and asked him to stay behind.

Dr. S: Joseph, I have noticed that you haven’t been attending class as often as you used to. 
Joseph: Yeah… Sorry, I’ve had a lot going on.
Dr. S: I just wanted to let you know that I had noticed, and I was wondering if everything is okay? 
Joseph: Oh, yeah, I’m okay. 
Dr. S: Well, it seems like something has changed for you since September, and you look quite tired in class. You also haven’t been as well-prepared for class as you were previously. If you have something going on in your life right now which is difficult, it may help to get some support. 
Joseph: *says nothing*
Dr. S: Is there anything I could do which would be helpful for you?
Joseph: No, that’s fine, thanks.
Dr. S: Are you aware there are resources on and off campus to help students? They are free.  
Joseph: I don’t think I need that. 
Dr. S: Alright, I can respect that. If anything changes and you would like to do so in the future, do you know where they’re located?
Joseph: Yeah.
Dr. S: You’re also welcome to talk to me if there is anything I could do to help. Well, thanks for hearing me out. Take care, I’ll see you next class. 

The student in this example was not particularly open to support. However, the instructor did several supportive things. She first described behaviors that she observed without judgment. She let the student know that she has concerns about him, she respected his wish for privacy, and she informed him about where he could get support if he chooses to access it. The instructor has now made the student aware that help is available, and he may choose to access it at some point in the future. Alternatively, if the issue is something that the student can resolve on his own, the instructor’s comments may serve as the motivation he needed to take whatever action is necessary.