Talking about Mental Health: Scenarios and Responses – Scenario Nine

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 nine

Student worried about failing a course and disappointing their family

Cobie is the first member of their family to attend a post-secondary program, and their parents and grandparents have invested most of their money in their education. Cobie has come up to you, as a teacher’s assistant, in a panicked way after class. They explain that they just got their mark back for an assignment, and they failed it and are unable to improve their mark. They will likely fail the class because of how much the paper was worth. The student is clearly panicking, and is displaying frantic behaviours like pacing, speaking rapidly, and fidgeting with their hands, and is on the verge of crying. They say that they feel guilty for wasting their parents’ and grandparents’ money and are embarrassed to tell them that they failed on the paper. They say they feel helpless and stuck, with no way out of the situation.

Key points

  • Validate the student’s feelings and emotions, and show your understanding of their situation.
  • Provide options for the student, such as discussing a rewrite with the instructor.
  • Encourage the student to visit counselling services.

Possible response

This sounds really challenging, and I’m so sorry that you’re going through this tough time right now. It must be really hard and upsetting to have worked so hard on a project and not got the mark you wanted. Your parents and grandparents care about you; that’s why they have helped you with school. You are a hardworking student and this one grade does not define you. I suggest you first talk to your instructor and see if they’re open to you rewriting your assignment. If that’s an option, you could get extra support from the learning centre. If redoing your assignment isn’t possible, there is the option of taking the class again or taking a different class that you might be more interested in. I’m here for you, and you can come to me to talk. If you’re feeling really overwhelmed by this, there are also counselling services on campus, and I can recommend a counsellor who can help you through this tough time. Would you like me to help you connect with counselling services?

Unhelpful responses

  • Don’t worry about it. This assignment probably doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.
  • Your parents and grandparents won’t be mad at you for failing one assignment.
  • You probably should have worked a bit harder and then this wouldn’t have happened.

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). © Jackson Mackenzie Nicholls (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 Splash of Rain