Compassion: How to help students in distress

Compassion: How to help students in distress

By Andy OberUniversity Communications
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Those who teach students or supervise student workers can educate themselves to recognize the signs of distress and help guide students toward the support they need, says Glenn Matchett-Morris, director of Counseling and Psych Services.
Those who teach students or supervise student workers can educate themselves to recognize the signs of distress and help guide students toward the support they need, says Glenn Matchett-Morris, director of Counseling and Psych Services.
Gary Matchett-Morris
Gary Matchett-Morris
Tanya Lauer
Tanya Lauer

As employees, we don't always know about the hardships that students are facing in their academic and personal lives. As we strive to live the University's core value of compassion, we want to help but we might not know how.

Those who teach students or supervise student workers are not expected to be, nor should they try to be, mental health care providers, says Glenn Matchett-Morris, director of Counseling and Psych Services. They can, however, educate themselves to recognize the signs of distress and help guide students toward the support they need.

"Any significant change in attendance, self-care or behavior in class or at work is often a sign that something is going on," Matchett-Morris says. "It doesn't necessarily mean that there is distress, but it does mean that something has changed and may require some support."

If you are concerned about a student, Matchett-Morris recommends approaching them one-on-one in a private setting, explaining your concern and asking if you can help in any way.

"That invitation will often lead students to open up," he says.

From there, he says, you can help connect the student with CAPS' wide range of student services, including counseling and crisis support.

In addition, CAPS offers in-person and virtual training sessions that can be presented at unit meetings. Those looking to take a deeper dive can sign up for Mental Health First Aid for Higher Education training, which teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse disorders.

Employees with any questions about supporting students can reach a counselor 24/7 by calling the CAPS main number at 520-621-3334.

Remembering self-compassion

When you spend significant time and effort focusing on the needs of others, it can be easy to neglect your own needs. Tanya Lauer, employee mental health and wellness specialist with Life & Work Connections, says people can have more empathy for others when they also focus on their own self-care.

"It's about being more emotionally intelligent, more mindful, more kind to ourselves, having clear boundaries and caring for ourselves," Lauer says. "When we do that, we can really show up for other people. When we're burned out, we might be more impatient or we might be so overwhelmed that we don't see that someone might be struggling."

In an effort to encourage and support adaptation, compassion and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic, Life & Work Connections has been offering expanded counseling, workshops and resources for employees with children through its Support and Resiliency Hub.

A silver lining

While the pandemic continues to be a source of stress, Matchett-Morris says it has put a spotlight on mental health and has led more people to reach out for support.

"Before, we would have students hesitate to come to CAPS until they were in crisis," Matchett-Morris said. "Some have told us that they walked around the courtyard several times before they walked in, or they wanted to make sure their friends didn't see them come in."

Matchett-Morris says the switch to virtual services for the time being may be helping some students feel more comfortable seeking help. Looking at the last handful of years, he says, the stigma surrounding mental health appears to be decreasing.

"I see it particularly with the younger students coming in," he said. "I think they've grown up in a time when talking about mental health is more normalized. It's just part of what they have experienced growing up."

World Mental Health Day is Monday, Oct. 10. Find more information and resources on the World Health Organization website.

Additional Resources

What can our wandering thoughts teach us about mental health? Read about what University researchers found out in this UANews story.

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