Monday, February 25, 2013

Vignette 1: What Would You Do?

Jane, a homesick student

Let's imagine you are a member of a college's faculty and a student presents in some distress. Consider the following scenario, and think about how you might respond.

Background: Jane is a first-year student from a rural area.  She is overwhelmed with living in a larger city, learning about everything on campus, making friends, and keeping up with her studies.  She is not yet fully depressed but has bouts of crying, anxiety and stress.                                             

Scene: Jane approaches her professor after class to ask for more information about an assignment.

Jane: Dr. Roberts, I know we are supposed to write this essay for next week but I’m not sure what to do.

Dr. Roberts: It’s in the syllabus, you just write a first-person account of your experiences last summer, paying attention to sentence structure like we discussed this morning.

Jane: I know, but…

Dr. Roberts: Just let your thoughts and memories come out on paper first, then polish them up like we talked about.

Jane: Yes, but (tears start to flow) summer was a great time, and…I don’t like thinking about it.

Dr. Roberts: Well, pick something that…ummm, is everything OK?

Jane: (More tears, voice raised) No!  I think about home all the time, it brings me down and I can’t stop worrying about it.  But I know I want to be here but I hate it too.  I have all this stuff to do but it gets all jumbled up in my head, then I don’t know where to go or anything so I end up just crying and doing nothing.  Then my Mom keeps asking me how I’m doing and I want to tell her but then I don’t because she keeps bugging me about it.  I miss her…sometimes I just want everything to stop…

Suggestions: Because safety always comes first, that last statement needs clarification.  One might ask "Please tell me what you mean by wanting everything to stop."  Assuming Jane is not referring to suicide (that is not the intention of this vignette), one might encourage Jane to elaborate on her feelings, perhaps asking questions to further identify the source of distress.  Jane is likely to say more about her problems adjusting to college life, something a great many students experience.  But its prevalence ought not dissuade us from offering further assistance, because a deeper depression could result from doing nothing.  Jane would benefit from a referral to the campus counseling service.  Information about making a good referral will appear in a future post, so please stand by.