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Tampere University Student's Handbook

Early support model for students

The Early Support Model was developed to encourage the members of our university community to care about one another. We are all responsible for creating a caring and supportive atmosphere on campus.

Sometimes the wellbeing or behaviour of a student may give rise to concern among his or her fellow students. These guidelines are provided to help students respond to a fellow student in distress. Often the best way forward is to ask the person if you could help.

Principles of the Early Support Model:

  1. Identify
  2. Discuss
  3. Refer the student to appropriate services 



Early Support Model – guidelines for responding to a fellow student in distress

These guidelines reflect the commitment of Tampere Universities to foster an environment of mutual support among students and staff. We are all responsible for creating a caring and supportive atmosphere on campus. As sometimes the wellbeing or behaviour of a student may give rise to concern, these guidelines are provided to help students respond to a fellow student in distress. Students may experience problems stemming from a variety of academic, personal or practical issues, so often the best way forward is to ask the person if you could help. Follow these three steps to help a fellow student who is causing you concern:

  1. Identify
  2. Discuss
  3. Refer the student to appropriate services

These guidelines are applicable to a variety of difficult situations. What is ultimately most important is listening to the person in distress and acknowledging his or her experiences.


Principles of applying these guidelines

Offer support early on: Discuss your concerns with the student as early on as possible. There is no reason to be embarrassed if your concerns turn out to be unfounded. Bringing up your concerns shows that you care.

Respect others: Tell the student that you are concerned about his or her wellbeing. Going behind someone’s back does not inspire trust, and we all have the right to decide how to deal with our own problems.

Accept other people’s differences: If a fellow student behaves unusually or strangely, it is not necessarily a sign of illness, defiance, lack of respect or indifference. The underlying reason may be personal problems, anxiety, learning difficulties or communication problems. 

Professional resources: If you are worried about a fellow student, you can seek advice by contacting appropriate campus resources, such as a teacher, the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS), the student union’s harassment contacts, or other student services.


Observations versus interpretations

As we humans are naturally inclined to make interpretations of the things that we see or hear, we should consciously separate our concrete observations from our interpretations. We can make observations of a fellow student’s appearance, behaviour, conduct or communication style. When we make interpretations, we try to work out the reason why he or she behaves in a certain way.

Examples of observations: a student fails exams, is often late, keeps quiet, looks dejected or sad or behaves unusually. 

Examples of interpretations: a student is lazy, idle, depressed or indifferent.

As interpretations that are voiced aloud may be extremely insulting to the other person, you should talk about your observations privately with the student in a friendly setting. If you bring up your concerns, it may motivate the student to find a solution or seek help.  


How to bring up concerns about a fellow student

It is important that you talk about your own observations and avoid making interpretations. For example, you could say “I have noticed that... I was wondering what this could be about.”

Ask the student how he or she is doing. A simple “How are you?” is a natural way to show that you are interested in your fellow student’s wellbeing.

You can bring up concrete observations that you have made about the student and his or her conduct and say that you are concerned. You can ask, for example, “I’ve seen you looking tired and dejected lately. I was wondering how you are doing.”

You can lend a sympathetic ear and offer your support by asking, for example “Is there something I can do for you?” It is enough to provide support: you are not expected to solve the personal problems of other people. Sometimes all it takes is sympathetic listening.

You do not have to be an expert communicator. You could imagine what you would want others to say to you in a similar situation or what you might say to a friend under similar circumstances. Perhaps you could invite the student to lunch or to join a study group or an extracurricular activity? Be yourself and listen attentively. The most important thing is to show that you care.


Referring a fellow student to appropriate support services

If it seems that support provided by fellow students and friends will not be enough to help the student in distress, you can encourage him or her to contact appropriate campus resources. You can use, for example, the following phrases to encourage the student to seek counselling or medical attention “I think it might be beneficial for you to contact the student health services.”

You could also say, for example, “I’ve heard that others in a similar situation have found the services of the student counsellor quite helpful.” If you have found a campus resource helpful, perhaps you could share your own experiences to encourage the student to seek help.

You should generally advise a fellow student in distress to contact the appropriate service personally. You could offer to make the appointment together with the student, for example, if he or she suffers from severe social anxiety, you are very worried about his or her wellbeing or you suspect that the student will be unable to seek help by him or herself.

There may be students in our community whose ability to make effective progress towards their degree has been diminished for some reason. A student in distress may already be receiving professional support. You can ask about this: “Are you already receiving some kind of help or support?” The student is free to decide how much information he or she is ready to share. 

A student in distress may not always be willing to accept help. You can offer him or her support and encouragement, but ultimately the student decides how to proceed. While the student may not be ready to accept help just yet, the discussion may encourage him or her to seek help later on.


If a student poses a risk of harm to self or others

Situations where a student is in danger of hurting him or herself or others are rare. However, if you have information that suggests that a student may pose a serious risk of harm to self or others, you must call 112. If you are not sure if the situation qualifies as an emergency, call 112. The call takers are professionals and will estimate the severity of the situation.

If you have a nagging feeling that a student may pose a risk of harm to self or others, take prompt action and inform relevant staff of your concerns (such as a teacher, head of study services, education manager, counsellor or safety specialist). If your concerns turn out to be warranted, you reaching out to the appropriate service may be essential in preventing the student’s problems from escalating. If your concerns turn out to be unfounded, there is no reason to feel embarrassed: you have shown that you are a caring person who looks out for those around you.


Protect your personal boundaries and do not overexert yourself

We are all responsible for fostering a friendly and inclusive atmosphere on campus. This also means that it is no one’s individual responsibility. We must all take care of our own wellbeing, too.

When you encounter a fellow student in distress, remember what your role is. Are you, for example, a friend or a student tutor? What are the boundaries of your particular role? Do not take care of others at the expense of your own wellbeing. If your feel overwhelmed, you should seek assistance by contacting an appropriate campus resource.

Dealing with a fellow student in distress may evoke different emotions in you. You should discuss these feelings with your friends. However, remember to be discreet and to only talk about your own experiences, not the problems that a fellow student is facing. If necessary, you can also consult, for example, the student counsellor or psychologist.

Tampere university
Published: 30.1.2019
Updated: 1.3.2024