Talking about Mental Health: Scenarios and Responses – Scenario Six

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 Six:

Engineering student who appears anxious and runs out of class

Your classmate usually sits at the very back of your engineering class and keeps to themselves. Today they arrive late, and you notice them taking one of the remaining seats at the busy centre of the lecture hall. Other classmates are engaged in loud conversations with one another. Your classmate appears to become anxious. You notice them frantically shuffling their body. As additional classmates fill up the remaining seats, your classmate hastily grabs their belongings and runs out of the class, sweating profusely. You decide to follow them out of class to see how they’re doing. When you talk to them, they tell you that they were just anxious and needed to get out of the room to relax.

Key points

  • Express support and empathy and let them know you support them.
  • Technical fields like engineering may appear to be emotionless environments to many students, but all students need support sometimes. Bring attention to mental health care by reaching out and sharing available resources.

Possible response

I noticed that you had an uncomfortable reaction in class and left class earlier. Are you doing okay? I just wanted to check because I know I sometimes feel overwhelmed during class. I know there can be all sorts of pressure, and I’m here if you want to talk about anything. How about we try and sit together next class? I can save you a seat.

Note: If the student says they’re fine and they don’t share anything else with you, that’s okay. They now know that someone else cares about their wellbeing and you’re available if they want to talk. If the student indicates that they’re feeling like they can’t cope with all the pressure or says anything that concerns you, you could suggest they connect with student services to find out about the resources that are available on campus to support students and help them learn coping strategies for dealing with all the stresses of being a student. You could also offer to walk over to student services with them, but you should take your cue from them.

Unhelpful responses

  • Hi there. I noticed that you ran out of class. I feel like that was weird. Next time, you should stay at the back of the class. If the seats are full, just find a spot on the floor up there or stand.
  • Hey, it looks like you need to see a counsellor. I know a person who suffered from social anxiety, and they eventually decided to drop out of school. This is a huge problem, and you need to get it fixed right away. I don’t want to see you suffer the same fate.

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). © Hamza Islam (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 Emiliano Arano