Talk to a student about mental health and wellbeing

If you are worried about someone, it can be difficult to know what to do. When you are aware there is an issue, it is important not to wait. Waiting and hoping they will come to you for help might lose valuable time in getting them support.

Before you start

Talking to someone is often the first step to take when you know they are going through a hard time. This way you can find out what is troubling them and what you can do to help.

If you have a feeling something is not quite right with a student, talk to them. You will not make things worse by asking.

Here are some tips for having what might be a difficult conversation:

Express your concerns clearly and directly. Asking about mental health and wellbeing is a positive thing.

Listen and communicate without judgement

  • Students should be able to talk without fear of judgement or unfair treatment. To make sure you understand what is being said, you may want to repeat back the student’s words. For example “I am hearing you’re unmotivated and have been feeling very low, is that right?” The things that the student is telling you might make you surprised or sad, but try to avoid expressing negative emotions or reactions. Express empathy by using phrases like “I’m sorry to hear you’ve been experiencing this, it must be really difficult”.
Listen to hear and understand
  • You are not expected to have all the answers. Reassure the student that effective help is available. Ask the student to share as much or as little as they want. Don't press them to provide details if they don’t feel comfortable doing so.
Do not promise to keep information confidential
  • If the student makes comments that show a potential risk of harm to themselves or others, including suicidal thoughts, do not agree to keep this confidential.
  • Encourage the student to reach out to support services and submit a Student of Concern referral.
  • If the student expresses immediate plans to harm themselves or others, then this is a crisis which warrants immediate action.
Help the student to understand their options for support at UCL and elsewhere
  • Unless the student is in crisis, try to empower them to make their own decisions. Guide the student to identify their personal support network and consider using the support services.
  • Encourage the student to reach out to support services and submit a Student of Concern referral if you believe the student to need urgent (but not immediate) support. If a student is well enough to access support on their own, we do not need a referral. Please encourage the student to attend a drop-in session instead.
Look after yourself
  • Make sure that you take care of yourself and remember that support is also available for staff through Workplace Health.