Counselling and mental health

The Student Counselling Service provides free, specialist interventions through a professionally staffed confidential service to students who experience psychological distress to enable them to achieve their academic and personal goals. The Service also serves as a specialist resource for information and consultation for those throughout the collegiate University who are engaged in a broad range of welfare functions, and runs a Peer Support Training Programme for students and Junior Deans and targeted training for staff in welfare positions/pastoral roles.

Advice for staff

If you are concerned about the welfare of a student you can seek help to ensure that support and treatment is provided as early as possible. It is important is to be able to recognise a problem, to know what options are available for help, and to recognise when to refer to an appropriate professional.

When to consider referring a student

Student distress may become apparent in a variety of ways. Students may be open about their difficulties and proactive in discussing them with you. Others may cope by denying difficulties, in which case these may become apparent through changes in the student’s appearance or manner, in the consistency and quality of their academic work. For detailed guidance on recognising potential mental health difficulties, see the Student Wellbeing Subcommittee’s Mental Health Policy.

You should refer a student to the Counselling Service if you are concerned about the student and either:

  • you do not have a personal relationship with the student, or
  • the relationship feels over-close or too intense, and you have the sense that the student is coming to expect more involvement from you than you are willing or able to give. Even if you have a good relationship with the student it may be that the problem they are bringing to you makes you feel uncomfortable or is beyond the remit of your pastoral role.

Making a referral

If a student is able to admit to you that they have a problem you can suggest it might be helpful to approach the Counselling Service. Your encouragement can make a real difference to a student who is unsure whether they need help or whether the problem is important enough to warrant counselling. Many of the students we see tell us that they have been referred to us by a tutor or someone else in their college or department who is concerned about them.

It may also help to convey that you see getting counselling as a positive adult step which represents taking responsibility for the situation (versus seeing it as a sign of weakness or failure).

If the student is not ready to talk about their problem or to admit that they have one, extend an open invitation to come back and talk to you in the future. You can help the student to overcome their fears about seeking professional help by:

  • reassuring them that anything said to a doctor, nurse, chaplain or counsellor will remain confidential
  • point out the consequences of not seeking help; that the problem will not go away by itself and that academic performance could continue to suffer.

Wherever possible the student should make contact with the Counselling Service to request an appointment. This invites the student to take ownership and avoids difficulties which can arise when students feel they have been ‘sent’ for counselling by someone else. There may be special circumstances in which you feel you need to make the contact on a student’s behalf. If so, please get in touch with the Counselling Service to discuss together the best way forward.

If you find referral in any way problematic or would like to talk through the situation, please contact the Head of Service, Alan Percy, or the Liaison Counsellor for your college.

What to do if you think the problem might be urgent

If a student threatens to harm themselves or others, and their behaviour suggests they will carry this out, you should call the college doctor and/or the emergency services. The Counselling Service is not an emergency service for this purpose. If there is a risk of physical harm it is acceptable to breach confidentiality (although, depending on the circumstances, it may be helpful to tell the student what you have decided to do).

Not all situations will be so clear-cut. A student may talk about wanting to be dead without showing any obvious signs of suicidal intent. A student may not be functioning normally but not necessarily threatening any physical harm to themselves or others. If in doubt it is always better to seek the advice of the college doctor or a member of the Counselling Service who will be more expert in risk assessment. Whatever the circumstances it is important to listen carefully to the student, to take their feelings seriously, to show concern, and to remain calm.

Protecting student confidentiality

Although a code of confidentiality underpins all counselling work many students are happy to give their counsellor permission to liaise with other members of the University, recognising the interplay between their academic progress and their psychological wellbeing. Before the service can discuss a student with you - or even confirm to you that a student has attended the Counselling Service - the student must give their written consent.

Link Counsellor Programme

As well as working directly with students the Counselling Service supports college and departmental staff responding to the welfare needs of their students. The is where a member of counselling staff is designated to act as a link between the Counselling Service and college welfare team. Link counsellors are available to support colleges in a variety of ways, for example, they contribute to induction sessions for new students and can serve as a point of reference for senior members of college with concerns about students.

Support for colleges and departments coping with a trauma

The Counselling Service can help in circumstances where colleges or departments are managing extraordinary situations but will only do so if requested by the college.

The most valuable support for individuals who have been especially affected by trauma often comes from those with whom they already have a personal relationship, including friends, tutors, chaplains, JCR or MCR officers. For this reason, the Counselling Service usually works with those in colleges and departments who are providing this support. Some of the forms this might take include:

  • acting as a resource for senior staff to think through how best to respond to what has happened, for example what should be said, by whom, and in which forum;
  • convening a quiet meeting for close friends of a student or member of staff who has died to think about the impact of the death. This is not counselling or psychotherapy, but simply a space in which to acknowledge what has happened and some of the feelings about it;
  • giving priority appointments to students from the college who contact the Counselling Service for help.