Sometimes students experience a crisis, which affects their ability to study. Seeking assistance as soon as
possible may help you to address a range of issues that you may not have considered, plus can significantly
improve your ability to cope with what has happened and the impact it may have on your study.
This resource can help you understand the nature of a crisis, some common responses and the way the
Counselling Service in the Learning and Teaching Unit can assist you through this time.
What is a crisis?
A crisis situation is one in which you are confronted with circumstances that are outside your usual life experience
and outside of your control. There are a wide range of events which fit into this category. These may include such
diverse incidents as moving house in exam week, being robbed, harassed or assaulted, terminal illness or death
of a close family member and losing your job. Sometimes a crisis situation can be triggered by stressors that are
more internal such as depression with suicidal thoughts or voices in your head telling you to do negative things.
In each case the crisis is an event, which you can later name as a time when life changed for you. This event may
change your perspective, though may not necessarily have a long term impact on your well-being or capabilities.
Below is a list of some aspects common to all crisis situations, which may help you to recognise whether or not
your situation is in fact a crisis.
are complex and difficult to resolve
threaten your personal safety and psychological well-being
may involve danger to those you are close to
can leave you feeling disorganized and in emotional turmoil
confront you with decisions which involve significant choices
are not remedied by a quick fix such as a good night’s sleep or a couple of drinks at the pub
require extra support from friends, family, fellow students, staff and /or qualified practitioners
may have a long term impact requiring a change of lifestyle in order to function at your best
The way you respond to a crisis will be unique to you and dependant on the circumstances in your life at the time .
During the initial phase you may experience emotional and psychological distress, physical discomfort and
possibly behave in unfamiliar ways.
It is typical for people to experience some of the following reactions during the first eight weeks of a crisis:
being watchful and on guard
difficulty trusting others
unusual tiredness and/or inability to sleep
other changes in your sleeping pattern
difficulty in thinking clearly
repetition of thoughts and images related to the experience
inability to stop thinking about these images
irritability and/or anxiety
feelings of being unsafe and/or vulnerable
change in appetite and eating pattern
questions of self doubt about your worth
loss of confidence
change in your life goals or your orientation towards life
At different times you may experience a mixture of these reactions, which could be disorienting or confusing. The
usual response is to find ways of looking after yourself that help you to get through this difficult time. During this
period though, you may find it hard to function in ways you have previously, despite wanting to do so.
Overall, the effect of a crisis will depend on many factors including how severe it is, the ways you have learned to
cope and solve problems, the extent of your family and social support networks, your financial situation and any
other stresses in your life.
Why you may need help in a crisis
You may need help, because you are unable to discern what is best for you during this time. Many of the
reactions mentioned above result from increased adrenalin or shock. While these are normal physical responses,
you can see from the list that their effects will make it difficult to consider long term strategies, concentrate on
studies or function adequately in all aspects of your life. These reactions can also make it hard to recognise your
need for support from others and that the situation is beyond their ability to deal with alone.
If you do not obtain assistance early on after experiencing a crisis, you may prolong your personal distress and
reduce your ability to study effectively. In addition, there may be some longer term consequences that need to be
considered. Seeking assistance at this point can be helpful.
Where to find help
Often others, like your friends, family or even academic staff at uni will notice a change in your behaviour and may
direct you to the Counselling Service in the Learning and Teaching Unit for assistance.
Any student experiencing a crisis during office hours should contact the Learning and Teaching Unit on their
For local students, after hours help is available by phoning Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.
International students who experience a crisis after office hours should contact Security in the first instance.
How can counsellors provide assistance?
If your well-being and/or studies are affected, counsellors can assist you to access the appropriate specialised
services in the community and negotiate with academic staff.
For example, you may have fallen behind in your assignment work or experienced difficulty attending classes.
Negotiating some modifications may make it possible for you to continue with your study and successfully
complete your course requirements.
Some of the topics you may explore with a counsellor can include:
discussing and assessing your level of physical and emotional distress and current safety
looking at your available support – through family, friends and community services
working out any long term needs that require some immediate action
assisting you to explain your circumstances to relevant academic staff and gain the special consideration that is
appropriate for your circumstances
exploring any financial implications of this crisis
If you experience a crisis or know someone you suspect is in a crisis, it is recommended that you contact the
Learning and Teaching Unit on your campus as soon as possible.
If you require further assistance, please make an appointment with a counsellor in the Learning and Teaching Unit
on your campus.