Talking About Mental Health: Scenarios and Responses – Scenario Eleven

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 Eleven

Student struggling to balance academic pressures with their social life

A student shows up to class after not coming for a couple of weeks. As everyone is packing up their bags at the end of class, you approach the student, who looks tired, is not wearing appropriate clothing for the cold weather outside, and looks like they may not have showered in a while. After talking privately with you in the empty classroom for a few minutes, the student discloses that they are hungover from a weekend of drinking. The student is clammy, sweaty, and breathing quickly. The student continues to tell you that they don’t want to be in school, but they’re under a lot of pressure from their family to be there. The student tells you that the only part of school they enjoy is the social aspect.

Key points

  • Listen and respond in an empathetic way.
  • Suggest they talk to someone counselling services about the pressures they’re feeling and get some advice on how to balance their academic and social life.
  • Suggest they talk to someone at the learning centre about how to manage their courses.

Possible response

Hey, I haven’t seen you in a while and I just want to check in on you. Is everything going okay? I see you don’t have a jacket, and it’s pretty cold outside. Do you want to see if the lost and found has anything that hasn’t been claimed in a while? I understand not wanting to come to class; it is a lot of pressure. The social life is exciting and new, and it’s a chance to feel free and be your own person. Do you have any ways to balance the social and work aspect of school? Do you have anyone to talk to about school and life? It could be really helpful to talk to someone, and here are some good resources here on campus. There are counsellors who are there if you need to talk about the pressure you’re feeling from your family; they can also give you some advice on balancing the work and social aspects of school. Would you like me to help you connect with them? I understand that you’re hungover now, but you could go whenever you’re ready. Is it okay if I reach out if I don’t see you in class next week?

Unhelpful responses

  • Don’t worry so much; you’ll grow out of this phase of your life.
  • Why are you even in class if you don’t want to be here?
  • It sounds like you drink a lot. Are you an alcoholic?
  • It might help to keep things in perspective. I have to work two jobs every summer to put myself through school, but your parents are paying your way—and you don’t even appreciate it.

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 revac film’s & photography