As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, students are currently experiencing a transition from their normal learning environment to one that is very different, and where the nature of their routine, day-to-day access to other students, tutors and pastoral support has changed considerably.
It is important that all student-facing staff remain approachable, so that students have an opportunity to disclose illness, feelings of distress, or of being in an abusive or dangerous situation. Some 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, or in the consistency and quality of their academic work.
Action you should take
Staff have a responsibility to act on concerns they have about a student’s welfare. The action you take depends on the nature of the concern you have. Whatever the circumstances, it is important to listen carefully to the student, to take their feelings seriously, to show concern, and to remain calm. It is also important that the student understands that there are limits to your pastoral role and what you can do to help without other colleagues and outside services becoming involved, where appropriate.
If you are concerned that a student is unwell, you should encourage them to seek medical attention. Students who are currently residing in Oxford or elsewhere in the UK can contact their college nurse or GP. It may be helpful to assure them that college GPs and emergency services are just as available and accessible to students as in normal times. Students who are currently residing outside the UK should be encouraged to make contact with local medical services. You may feel that it would be helpful to alert the college welfare team, but in most circumstances should only do so with the student’s consent. There is a List of college welfare contacts available.
If a student indicates that they are struggling to cope effectively with the challenges of the present situation, or that they may have, or be developing, a mental health difficulty, encourage them to seek medical help (as above), to consult their college welfare team, and/or to make an appointment with the University’s Counselling Service. Wherever possible, follow up with the student to establish whether they have been able to access the needed support, and to ensure that the relevant services are now engaging with the student.
If there is a significant risk of physical harm, it is acceptable to break confidentiality. If a student threatens to harm themselves or others, and their behaviour suggests they will carry this out, you should call the emergency services. These decisions may not be clear cut: a student may talk about wanting to be dead without showing any obvious signs of suicidal intent. A student may be exhibiting unusual or distressing behaviours, but not necessarily threatening any physical harm. If in doubt, it is a good idea to ask the student directly whether there is any risk that they might harm themselves. If, having talked with the student, you are in any doubt you should consult with the college doctor or the duty counsellor at the University Counselling Service who will be more expert in risk assessment. In the first instance, advice could be sought whilst keeping the student’s identity anonymous to preserve confidentiality.
Welfare and Emergency services
The Welfare and Wellbeing page on the University website directs students to a number of services and self-help resources, including those that relate to Health and Emergencies. The page also provides links to the following University services available to students:
College welfare teams
Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Service
The Disability Advisory Service
The Student Resolution Service
It is important that staff recommend these services to students, or make contact with these services directly, where appropriate. There are also student self-help resources available on the University’s welfare pages.
Training resources for staff
The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust has developed a two-hour e-learning package that is designed to give non-specialist staff the skills, knowledge and confidence to offer a first line of support to students who may have mental health issues.
There is further information about training for staff supporting students with mental health disabilities within the guide for supporting disabled students on the academic support website.
Guidance on Confidentiality in Student Health and Welfare
Student wellbeing and mental health strategy