Friday, May 17, 2013

Vignette 2: What Would You Do?

Sarah, a depressed student

Imagine you are in the position of advising a college student about her classes.  She walks into your office unexpectedly, looking for help.

Background: Sarah is a junior and does well in class and is usually perky and energetic.  Lately though she appears fatigued, quiet, and withdrawn.  Instead of being her usual talkative self, her close friends notice she just keeps her head down and seems to mope around.  Others haven’t seen her in a while and don’t know what is going on.

Scene: Sarah meets with her advisor about next fall’s schedule of classes.

Mr. Hayes: Hey Sarah!  Haven’t seen you in a while.  (He notices her appearance, which is unkempt and tired) How are you?

Sarah: (Looks down, emotionally flat) OK.

Mr. Hayes: OK, well, what did you have in mind today?

Sarah: I guess I need to set up classes for the fall.  I am not sure though…what I want or need.  Or even it it’s important.

Mr. Hayes: I have to tell you, that surprises me.  You’re usually right on top of everything.

Sarah: (Angrily) I wish everyone would stop saying that!  I am so tired of doing what everyone expects me to do!

Mr. Hayes: Whoa, Sarah.  I’m not really telling you what to do.  I’m just surprised, that’s all.  What is going on?  You seem different.

Sarah: I’m not who you think I am…

Mr. Hayes: What do you mean?

Sarah: I’m bored.  I don’t care about anything anymore.  All this school stuff is stupid.  I just want to sleep and be left alone.  I’m tired of people calling me, asking me stuff.  (Tears start to flow) My boyfriend doesn’t deserve this, so I avoid him too.  He’s getting frustrated, just like you.  Just like everyone else.  I guess I can’t blame them…all I’ve done for a couple months is sleep and watch TV and eat junk.  But I don’t care.  Goodbye Mr. Hayes, you won’t be seeing me anymore.

Suggestions: First, that last statement requires clarification.  Ask Sarah exactly what she means by that before she leaves your office.  If safety appears to be an issue, contact your campus counseling service for assistance right away.  If safety does not appear to be an issue make an attempt to understand her obvious distress.  Say "Please tell me more about what is bothering you, I'd like to help."  Asking questions about basic things like eating, sleeping, going to class, family and friendships will often reveal a lot about the type of issues Sarah struggles with.  Once you have an understanding of her concerns, focus on empathizing and not judging Sarah.  Then offer to help her see someone who can help her further.  Say "We have a great counseling center and I'd like to help you get an appointment there."  Offer to make the call for her right there in your office.  But then hand the telephone to Sarah when it is time to set the appointment.  Or you could offer to walk with her to the center yourself.  Later, follow up with her and ask her about her appointment, and encourage her to go if she has not done so.  Benign encouragement and persistence can go a long way in getting students the help they need.