Identifying and Helping Students At Risk

All students experience stressful times while studying at university. However, some students may suffer from difficulties so extreme that they may not be able to keep up with their studies, or may even be a danger to themselves or others. These personal difficulties may include depression, anxiety, illness, physical disability, financial crisis, or the death of a friend or family member, just to name a few. Unfortunately, many students with personal difficulties do not know where to turn for help. UBC provides free and confidential counseling to students, and can often offer academic concessions (such as deferred exams) to students in extenuating circumstances.

As a TA, you will often be teaching small classes, labs, or discussion groups where you will have the opportunity to get to know your students. However, most undergraduate lectures have hundreds of students, which can be a very impersonal experience. For many of your undergraduate students, you might be the only instructor at UBC who ever takes the time to learn their names. This means that your students are more likely to approach you if they are suffering from a personal problem than to approach one of their lecture instructors that they have never spoken to before. If a student approaches you with a personal problem, or if you notice a student in your class who appears to be suffering from a personal difficulty and shows signs of emotional distress, you should know how to respond. It is not your responsibility to be a counselor or to solve your students’ personal problems. However, you should make them aware of the resources that are available to them and, if necessary, refer them to someone who is able to help.

UBC Counselling Services has provided an “At Risk Student Guide” online at This guide includes how to recognize signs of emotional distress, how to identify a whether a student is “at risk”, how to refer a student to a counselor, how to deal with emergencies, how to maintain your own healthy personal limits when assisting a student with personal difficulties, and resources for students at risk, both on and off campus. Additionally, this website provides links to resources that you can contact if you are concerned about a student but are not sure whether you should intervene.

In an emergency, same-day appointments with UBC Counselling Services can be made by calling 604-822-9260 (indicate when calling that the situation is urgent) or make an emergency appointment with Student Health Services, 604-822-7011.