Faculty often have the most ongoing, day-to-day contact with students, and therefore have an important role to play in fostering a supportive environment that encourages students’ continued, successful enrollment and maintains a safe, healthy community. Your university has most likely expressed a commitment to developing a community that is open and supportive about mental health issues, but cannot fulfil this commitment without your help.
In addition, under section 17 of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the human rights jurisprudence, the University has a duty to accommodate documented disabilities in a way that respects the dignity and unique needs of the individual, and to the point of undue hardship. Accessibility Services or Student Deans may play a primary role in developing these accommodations, but faculty also play a role in implementation for affected students in your courses.
For more information, please review the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Guidelines on Accessible Education.
Faculty Providing Support – a Summary
Students experience and deal with distress in a variety of ways; some may choose to reach out to professors as they attempt to cope. Your willingness and ability to respond to students in distress will naturally be influenced by your personal style, personal experiences, and philosophy about the boundaries of your responsibility for helping students. You may not be comfortable taking on this kind of supporting role. This is understandable.
However, you may find yourself in a situation where a student has approached you in distress, and you need to respond to the situation in some way. Here are the basics:
1. Avoid stigmatizing mental health concerns
Try not to stigmatize or dismiss mental health concerns in your lectures or individual interactions with students. If a student approaches you with a concern or in distress, try to respond with patience and empathy. Give the student a moment to explain and/or compose him or herself before directing the student to the appropriate referral. Minimize judgment if possible.
2. Familiarize yourself with your law school’s support resources and processes
Familiarize yourself with your law school’s processes and resources for students who are experiencing mental health concerns. As a front-line representative of the Faculty, you may be the first person who is made aware of a problem, and thus the first person who can help the student find out where a solution may lie.
A list of your law-school-specific resources, referrals and academic accommodation policies can be found on JustBalance.ca under My Campus Resources. Feel free to refer students to this resource.
Some schools may also have a prepared referral sheet available for your use.
3. Learn to recognize mental health concerns
This brief 3.5 minute video from the Council of Ontario Universities provides faculty and staff with information about how to identify mental illness on campus and to make a referral:
If you notice a student is exhibiting obviously concerning symptoms, you may wish to keep an eye on the situation and/or bring this to the attention of your law school resource person (for example, the Dean or Assistant Dean of Students).
Professors Supporting Law Students – Additional Resources
If you are willing and able to provide additional support or wish to learn more, the Additional Resources include more comprehensive information on:
- Recognizing a Student in Distress
- Supporting and Referring a Student in Distress
- Responding if a Student Seeks Academic Accommodations
- Responding to Emergent Situations
- Creating a Supportive Learning Environment for All Students
- A Final Thought: Why Do Some Students Wait Until the Last Minute To Seek Help?
You may access the Additional Resources HERE.