Starting university may be a culture shock and a tremendous change for many students. Some adjust well and some do not. During this adjustment period, it is important for the student to be able to talk to family and friends about their challenges.  A student from outstation or overseas may feel lonely, so encouraging your son/daughter to speak with their mentor and/or seek counselling for support is important for their wellbeing and to learn new coping skills.

Signs of a potential problem

This is an age where students will feel peer pressure as well as academic pressure. As parents, friends, or lecturers you may notice some changes. Please refer to below for some guidelines on potential problems.


  • Patterns of perfectionism (e.g. can’t accept themselves if they don’t get an “A”).
  • Extreme disorganization of work.
  • Written expression of unusual violence, despair, confusion; papers that focus on suicide or death.
  • Disproportionate response to grades or other evaluations.

Behavioural & Emotional

  • Direct statements indicating distress or loss.
  • Angry or hostile outbursts, yelling, or aggressive comments.
  • More withdrawn or more animated than usual.
  • Shakiness, tremors, fidgeting, or pacing.
  • Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness; crying or tearfulness.
  • Expressions of severe anxiety or irritability.
  • Excessively demanding or dependent behaviour.
  • Lack of response to outreach from you.


  • Deterioration in physical appearance or personal hygiene.
  • Excessive fatigue, exhaustion;
  • Visible changes in weight.
  • Noticeable cuts, bruises, or burns.
  • Frequent or chronic illness.
  • Disorganized speech, rapid or slurred speech, confusion.
  • Unusual inability to make eye contact.
  • Red eye or smelling of alcohol.

If you see any of the behaviour above, please refer the students to the appropriate resource.

Information for Parents of IMU Students

We encourage parents to seek appropriate University services when they are concerned about the academic, emotional, and social wellbeing of their children. In this section we will offer information to help parents better understand their children’s problems, how to respond with concern and knowledge, and how to access the services of the Student Counseling Service at SDU.

What to do when your son or daughter is having difficulty

It is important to see things from your child’s point of view. As adults, the problems may be a small matter or can be dealt with. One forgets what it was like to be young. Being young today is different from a few years back where the world was not so much on the World Wide Web.  Being empathetic, communicating with your child, acknowledging their feelings and listening to them is important. Open up a channel for communication. Take the opportunity to communicate your concern to them as soon as possible. Dealing with the situation earlier will lessen the chances of a need.

Being empathetic and non-judgemental.
Communicate in a private setting. Choose the right time to bring the subject up.
Listen actively. Although you may wish to advise, talk, and make things right, listening to your child is healing in itself. Sometimes it is not about solving the problem but being a listening ear
Listen to your child’s way of coping before offering advice.
Know what you can or cannot do. Please refer your child to available resources at the university if necessary. It may be the mentor, counsellor, or IMU Healthcare professional.

When or whom do I refer to at IMU?

Depending on the challenges faced by your son or daughter, you may wish to refer your child to the appropriate staff.

For academic stress

Encourage your son/daughter to speak with their mentor. Usually the mentor will assist with academic related issues and will be able to give a good overview of what is expected of their studies and if they are on the right track in their study schedule etc. They may guide them with simple study skills and time management as well as point them to correct resources. The mentor will refer for counselling if there is a need to learn new ways of coping with stress.

For stress and emotional and psychological issues

More and more students approach the counsellors for counselling out of their own free will. However some may still find it difficult to seek counselling or did not know that they could. When necessary, please encourage your son or daughter to contact the counsellors at SDU to schedule an intake appointment.

Often a student who sought counselling late i.e. when the issue or problem is harder to overcome, have said they wished they had come earlier.

Please click on Contact Us on how to make an appointment.

Student who has been receiving mental health treatment prior to entering IMU

If your son or daughter has been receiving mental health treatment before entering IMU, and you wish the counsellors at SDU to provide support, please provide a referral letter and let the existing mental health professional know that you would like us to work with them. We would be happy to work together to provide counselling and support. A referral to a local mental health provider is recommended for mental health treatment such as clinical psychology and psychiatric treatment. You may get recommendations from your existing mental health provider or from us. We have a list of public and private mental health professionals available.

How we can help you as a parent

If you are concerned about your child and are unsure on how to help your them, please feel free to contact us for a consultation session.  We will be able to help confirm or dispel any concerns regarding their wellbeing and we will be able to provide a list of referrals where necessary.

Confidentiality and parent communication with SDU

Rest assured that the counsellors work on the basis of confidentiality within our professional ethics as mentioned in the Confidentiality section.

Students who has been receiving mental health treatment prior to entering IMU

Referral Guide for Faculty and Staff

Students will normally feel comfortable with certain persons. If you have a good relationship with a student, he or she will trust you more. In times of need, they will share their problems with you. Look out for signs as mentioned above. If you do notice any of the signs, do communicate with the student to consider getting professional help before it gets any worse, or if the situation is critical, do refer the student to the appropriate mental health professional for his/her safety and well-being.  Please refer the student to the appropriate mental health professional. You may refer to the IMU Referral system at our e-learning portal.

How do I refer?

  1. Reflect to the student what you understood he/she is going through.
  2. Let the student know your reasons for making a referral
    • You are only able to help to a certain extend – limited training and not trained in this area.
    • Emphasise the need to get professional help.
    • Conflict of Interest.
  3. You may state how you can help – support in being a listening ear from time to time or provide some guidance on study skills (if this will help reduce stress) etc. Emphasize that this will not resolve the root or core issue and that is the reason to get professional help.
  4. Ask them if they have any concerns regarding going to a mental health professional.
  5. Alleviate the fears especially where it concerns fitness to practice. Emphasise that those who get help and cope better are the ones who can be successful. Leaving it for later will make it harder to overcome. You may refer to the documentation on the fitness to practice available.
  6. Provide contact information to SDU to set an appointment.
  7. Follow up on how it went with the student.

Guidelines for Dealing with Distressed Students


If you have a student who shows distress or express a high level of stress, you may wish to consult a professional on how to proceed to help the student.  There is no one formula. How one responds will depend on one’s personality, the student’s need, and how critical the situation is.

What is important is for one to know one’s personal limit and to seek support and help and refer where necessary.

Talking to the Student

If a student has approached you or you are concerned for one of the students, you may wish to do one of the following:

  • See the student in private.
  • If the student approached you first, listen to the student by asking how he/she is.
  • If you approach the student, be honest about your concern and yet respectful of how much the student wishes to disclose or share.
  • Check for:
    • Student’s emotional state – how he/she is feeling. What coping strategies do they use?
    • Student’s extracurricular activity – is he/she active in other areas besides academic.
    • Student’s stress level and ways of coping with stress.
    • Student’s relationship with others and his/her circle of support – is he or she sharing with anyone e.g. family and friends about their problems and challenges. The less the support, the more the need for professional mental health support.
  • Avoid judging and providing advice. Often we are tempted to “fix the problem”. It is important to listen, be present and supportive first.  Respect the student’s own cultural and value system which may defer from yours. Remember that listening is a form of support. You may let the student know you do not agree but are able to listen and accept him/her for where and who he/she is today.
  • You may comment on behaviours that are not appropriate or strange.
  • Bring up the subject of seeking professional help. Speak of the benefits e.g. learning new coping skills, getting an objective point of view, and learning how to manage better.

Supporting Students with Suicidal Ideation.

It is becoming common for students to resort to suicidal ideations as a way of coping. Much information is available on the internet.  Suicide is a cry for help and the need to communicate what they could not say in words.

  1. You can read up more on this at the Befrienders website. Check out the “Facts and Fallacies” and “Dos and Don’ts”. 
  2. If the student mentions or indicates suicidal ideation or has been feeling low or very stressed for a long time, do check further by asking more questions.
  3. Check if the student has a plan – how, when, where he/she intends to carry out the plan. Check if the student has a history of an attempt before. Many are afraid to ask these questions. It is a fact that most people who have suicidal ideation are willing to speak about it. It is a way to communicate their stress and what they are going through.

If you are supporting a student who has suicidal ideation or a history of suicide attempts, you may wish to sign up for the workshop organised by our Human Resources on Supporting Students who are Suicidal. Please check with HR on the training schedule.

If a Student is Reluctant to Seek Professional Help

Despite more and more students seeking counselling, for many, there is a stigma attached to it. Students who came from the Malaysian school system may have the idea that only disciplinary cases get sent to the counsellor. Hence it is important to talk about this and alleviate their fears, if any.  Many people seek counselling for a wide range of issues (stress management, career counseling etc.) as written in our website Counseling Services.  It’s important to seek counselling earlier and to learn how to cope in a better way before it becomes critical where they may need to take medication. Reassure the student that the information shared is kept confidential within the limits as mentioned at our website under Confidentiality.

Let the student know they have the freedom to stop the counselling at any time.  Encourage them to see the counsellor at least once. Then it’s up to them to continue or choose another form of help.

If the student is reluctant to see the counsellor at IMU. You may get a list from the counsellors of other counselling services available in our community. The student will need to pay for these services on their own. Another option is to refer them to IMU Healthcare where doctors and clinical psychologist are available, and the student may choose whom they wish to see. You may call ext 8102 to enquire and make an appointment at IMU Healthcare.

In the case of an emergency, you may bring them directly to IMU Healthcare. Always get another colleague to accompany you if required.

Do follow-up with the student regarding the counselling sessions. If the student does not find the counselling helpful, do refer them to another resource.  Counselling is about building rapport and the need for the student to find the right person to talk to.  The student may decide to change counsellors within IMU or to seek counselling elsewhere.  Your role is to motivate and encourage them to seek help. You may click on Contact Us to learn how to make an appointment with the counsellors.




Cert No: KLR 0500119