Making a referral

Student distress may become apparent in a variety of ways. Some students may be open about their difficulties and proactive in discussing them with you. Others may cope by denying difficulties, 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 mental health difficulties see the Student 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.


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 link counsellor for your college or the duty counsellor by emailing

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 significant 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 the duty counsellor 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.


Guidance on confidentiality in student welfare

Updated guidance on Confidentiality in Student Health and Welfare is available on the welfare webpages. Guidance on best practice and is available for colleges to use and adapt as they feel appropriate.

Contact us: 

Counselling Service
3 Worcester Street
01865 270300