Talking about Mental Health: Scenarios and Responses – Scenario Ten

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 ten

Student triggered by an instructor’s comments about weight and body image

Your friend Blue, who is recovering from an eating disorder, just ran out of class because of triggering course content. Blue is non-binary, queer, bi-racial, and neurodivergent. In class, the instructor was discussing nutrition, body image, and healthy eating when they made an implicitly offensive comment about weight and body mass index. This triggered Blue, causing them to run out of the classroom. You also leave class to check on them, and you find them pacing up and down the hallway, scratching their arms, and tugging at their shirt to pull it away from their body.

Key points

  • Listen and respond in an empathetic way.
  • Ask them if they have anyone to talk to.
  • Offer to go with them to a quiet place on campus, such as a student hub, so they can ground themselves.
  • Ask if they’d like to talk to a counsellor and offer to help connect them with counselling services.

Possible response

I noticed that you ran out of the class after the instructor made that insensitive comment. Do you want to talk about how you’re feeling, or do you need time for yourself? I know you’re recovering from an eating disorder and hearing your instructor make a comment like that must be extremely upsetting. I can see that you’re distressed by the way you’re scratching yourself. I know the student hub has a quiet space that we can go to if you think that would help; I can walk you there now. After you feel more grounded, do you want to talk to someone? There’s counselling at the school and peer support, but if you don’t feel comfortable discussing the matter here, there’s, which is an online chat or text resource.

Unhelpful responses

  • I thought you recovered from your eating disorder. Why does this bother you?
  • I’m sure the instructor had good intentions; you’re just taking it the wrong way.
  • I know you were triggered by that comment, but I’m sure the whole class was too.
  • Come on back to class, you don’t want to miss everything and fall behind.

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). © Calla Smith (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. 

Read the other scenarios in this series:

The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by Daniel Kux