Talking about Mental Health: Scenarios and Responses – Scenario Two

The following is an excerpt from the handout Talking about Mental Health: Scenarios and Responses, included in Starting a Conversation about Mental Health: Foundational Training for Students. The guide is a facilitator’s guide for use with post-secondary students and the scenarios offer suggestions on how to respond to students who are overwhelmed and feeling distressed. These scenarios can be used as starting points for discussions and continued thought about how we can respond with empathy to students while recognizing and honouring their strengths and capacity to achieve balance. We will be reprinting one new scenario every month on our blog.

Scenario 2:

Student who’s genderqueer and just gone through a bad breakup

You have been paired up with Leslie on a semester-long project in one of your classes. Leslie is upfront about being genderqueer and asks you to use the pronouns they/them. Leslie is enthusiastic, shows up to all the meetings, and completes their portion of the work on time. However, as the semester progresses, Leslie begins missing meetings, is harder to get hold of, and is either late with their contributions or the work is subpar compared with their earlier submissions. When you ask if everything is okay, Leslie admits they are going through a bad breakup and is having a hard time handling it. They are having difficulty concentrating on their work, they aren’t sleeping well, and they are drinking a little more than usual. Leslie tells you they are thinking about dropping out and don’t know what to do.

Key points

  • Be empathetic and supportive while taking a strengths-based approach, highlighting their capabilities as a student and their resilience in the face of stress and hardship.
  • Be mindful when referring to them or their partner with the proper pronouns and stay conscious of it.
  • Connect the student with LGBTQ2S+-friendly resources, such as counselling services, at the school or in the community.
  • Provide support by discussing how your joint project’s deadlines, delivery, and work can be altered to allow for flexibility without loss of quality or imbalance in the division of work.

Possible response

I’m sorry to hear about your breakup with your partner. In my time working with you on this project, you have been diligent, hardworking, and enthusiastic. I can see your situation is causing you a lot of stress and sadness and distracting you from your studies. Have you spoken to anyone about this? Do you have support at home or withfriends or family? The school has some excellent LGTBQ+-friendly counselling services you can access as well. Maybe it would help to talk to someone about what you are going through? I know you’re having a really hard time and I commend you on continuing to show up and trying the best you can; it’s a testament to your resilience. Although we do need to complete our project, I’m flexible in how we continue with it. Is there anything we can change to ease some of your stress, such as working on it together instead of separating the work and then meeting?

Responses to avoid

• Cheer up, there are plenty of fish in the sea! I’m sure you’ll have no problem meeting someone new. (Although this may be true, it minimizes the pain and grief the person is going through. They need time to process their experience before they can move on.)

• Did you break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend? (At no point is it necessary to know the sex/gender of their partner. If they do not disclose this information, it is because they have chosen not to and the physical sex or gender identification of their partner will not impact the way in which you support your peer. Using gender-neutral terms like partner or significant other is more appropriate and respectful, and mirroring the language they use to describe their significant other is the best option.)

• Can’t you just get over it and move on?We have deadlines, and I don’t want to get a bad grade. (Although the concern for a bad mark is real, adding stress and pressure to a situation does not help or support the student in crisis; it only adds to their stress.)

• I know exactly what you are going through. When I went through that, I [insert personal story]. (This may seem helpful, but it takes away from their experience, and when we offer personal anecdotes, we stop listening to their story and concerns. Maintaining the focus on their situation allows them to talk through their experience with someone and sometimes that is all they need to move forward or find clarity in a situation and seek the help they need.)

This handout is licensed under a Starting a Conversation about Mental Health: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Foundational Training for Students International license (CC BY 4.0 license). © Dagmar Devine (CC BY 4.0 license) 

“Starting a Conversation about Mental Health: Foundational Training for Students” includes a facilitator’s guide with handouts and a PowerPoint presentation. This adaptable training resource covers foundational mental health and wellness information for post-secondary students and ways to respond to peers who are experiencing distress. It can be used for a two-to three-hour synchronous training session or for self-study. 

The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by NEOSiAM 2021 from Pexels