Talking about Mental Health: Scenarios and Responses – Scenario Four

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 Four:

Homeless student misses study group

You are part of a study group that has been meeting regularly through the semester. Recently, one member’s attendance has become sporadic. When they do show up, their appearance is dishevelled,
and they seem to have a hard time concentrating. When you ask them about this, they confide that they have been evicted from their apartment and must live in their car for a few weeks until they can afford a deposit on a new place. They explain that it’s hard to find a quiet and comfortable place to study or sleep, and their coursework has suffered as a result. They also tell you that they feel a lot of stress and shame about the situation.

Key points

  • Validate in an empathetic and non-judgmental way.
  • Respect privacy.
  • Offer to connect the student with relevant resources, such as shelters, counselling, financial aid, bank programs, and library study spaces.
  • Set personal boundaries.

Possible response

You have nothing to be ashamed of; many of us have gone through financial hardships through no fault of our own. I understand it must be a stressful situation, and I will respect your privacy. Can I connect you with some services thatmight help you at this time? Financial aid has scholarships, bursaries, and assistance programs that could help you financially. There are food bank programs and shelters in the community. A counsellor could help you deal with the stress. And if you need a quiet place to study, there is always the library and campus study spaces. I can show you these spaces and support you in accessing these resources.

Unhelpful responses

  • Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you’re homeless!
  • You really need to learn to manage your money better.
  • Don’t worry, you can move in with me today and stay as long as you need to! (This response is not conducive to maintaining healthy personal boundaries.)

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). © Jenny Guild (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. 

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