Resources Available for Supporting Distressed Students

Here’s a link to a video presentation that Karla Vermeulen and Amy Nitza of New Paltz’s Institute of Disaster Mental Health recently delivered:  https://ensemble.itec.suny.edu/Watch/Je53Qng6

Here’s the link to the SUNY COVID-19 crisis support & resources website, including emotional support hotline and live sessions.

SUNY-wide blog: Coming together in Crisis

One resource for thinking about grief right now: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/bravery-in-bereavement/202004/how-cope-bereavement-during-the-covid-19-pandemic

SUNY Oneonta invites students to write about their COVID experiences:

Psst! Hey, you!

 

1. Signs of crisis

A student may come to you in tears or you might notice poor coursework, repeated absence from class, a look of exhaustion, disheveled clothing, apathetic attitude, disruptive displays of anger or sadness, etc. It’s appropriate to ask, “I notice you haven’t been handing in your homework. I am concerned. Is something wrong?”  Or to reflect back, “I see that you are very upset. I would like to help you.”

2. When a student is in crisis

Validate their emotional state, “you are dealing with a difficult situation” and let them know that you perceive their distress, “you seem very upset.”

De-escalate when possible by reflecting back what you hear the student saying and asking student to assess the situation as clearly as possible.

Gauge the degree of distress.

If the situation seems extreme, consider using the QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) technique to check for risk of self-harm, harm to others, or suicidal intention.

If the student is in severe crisis, contact the Psychological Counseling Center (x 2920) or the University Police (x 2222) and request immediate help.  Do this with the student in the room so they understand the degree of concern and they are not surprised.  A PCC counselor is on call, 24/7, even during the present COVID-19 situation.

If the student is at risk of self-harm or harm to others, you should also immediately inform Dean of Students Robin Cohen-La Valle (x 3261) or University Police (x 2222).  Even if the situation does not seem life-threatening, do not hesitate to fill out a “Student Behavior of Concern – Incident Reporting Form” on mynewpaltz.edu.  This includes serious academic concerns tied to an inability to complete required coursework with or without a Disability Resource Center (DRC) accommodation or a doctor’s note.  These would be concerns that go beyond typical student flakiness or lack of academic preparedness.  For those challenges, contact the Center for Student Success for guidance.

Unless there is a risk of self-harm or harm-to-others, the student maintains control of their story and will not be asked to act or press charges unless they choose to do so (e.g. a case of sexual assault).

3.  A student of concern

If the student is not at immediate risk, it is still wise to steer them towards the Psychological Counseling Center for an individual appointment (that may take 2-3 weeks to schedule) or a group session.  Peer support resources, Oasis / Haven, may seem more appealing to your student.  There are many such services available listed on the PCC website and the Faculty Development Center website.  Promoting group sessions alleviates some of the caseload pressure on the PCC staff and helps students feel more connected to their peers.

It is reasonable to discuss with a student whether it is appropriate for them to be taking your class if they are not able to attend regularly or complete the required work. It may be time for a medical withdrawal from your class or the college until they can function adequately.  Contact Dean Robin Cohen-La Valle with questions (x3261) or (lavaller@newpaltz.edu).

Reporting and Resources: Student of Concern

Psychological Counseling Center, x 2920, Director Gweneth Lloyd (after 5:00 p.m. call University Police)

University Police Department, x2222, Anonymous tip line, x2230, emergency, 911

Title IX/ LGBTQ information and reporting, Emma Morcone, x3184

Residence Life, Corinna Caracci, x 4444

Oasis / Haven, Deyo Hall G 13c, peer counseling, x 4945

Dean of Students, Robin Cohen-La Valle, x3261 (cohenr@newpaltz.edu)

Referrals/reporting: my.newpaltz.edu / student behavior of concern – incident reporting form (including disruptive behavior, severe anxiety & depression, threat of self-harm or harm to others)

Disability Resource Center Tel. x3020; drc@newpaltz.edu, Director, Jean Vizvary

Psychological Counseling Center – Group Sessions for Students

Contact the Psychological Counseling Center for info or to register (845-257-2920)

Let’s Talk, Wednesdays,  (drop in without appointment)

All of Me support group for students who identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum with Lauren Spencer, LCSW, Wednesdays, 12:30 – 2:00 p.m.

#SkillstoChill sessions on stress and anxiety management, with Sarah Burrows, LMHC, Thursdays, 2:30-4:00 p.m.

P.A.T.H. Preventing Anxiety Through Health and Healing) with Joel Oppenheimer, LCSW, spring dates TBD

Wise Mind, a dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) informed skill-based group designed to help you feel more in control and prepared when a wave of emotion hits. With Meaghan Shea, LSCW-R & Nathaniel Pickering, MHC intern, Tuesdays 2:30 – 4:00 p.m.

SSWAG, Strong Successful Women Achieving Greatness with Candy Davies, LCSW-R, Wednesdays, 3:30 – 5:00 p.m.

Positive Masculinity Workshops, facilitated by Joel Oppenheimer, LCSW

Instagram: @newpaltzpcc

From The New York Times:
How to Give People Advice They’ll Be Delighted to Take
Evaluate, collaborate and support.
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/21/smarter-living/how-to-give-better-advice.html

PCC Group Flyer Fall 2019 final

How to Ask if Everything Is OK When It’s Clearly Not

Image
Credit…Lauren Martin

In a perfect world, when you’re checking in with someone who’s struggling, you’d have your conversation together in a calm, private setting. Phones and devices would be silenced and stashed out of sight. Food and drinks tend to put people at ease, so you’d nosh on snacks or sip a beverage together, too.

But this, of course, isn’t a perfect world, and we’re still in the throes of a pandemic, so this idyllic social scenario may not be possible anytime soon. So it’s even more important you choose the right moment to check in, as it will determine the quality of the interaction you have.

While we may not be able to be physically present when we approach a troubled friend, we can create an atmosphere — and cultivate the right mind-set within ourselves — so the other person will feel comfortable opening up when they need support most.

When you chat with a friend, Thomas Joiner, a psychology professor at Florida State University, said you should be on the lookout for noticeable changes in their demeanor, such as an irritable mood or a disheveled appearance. If your friend has recently experienced relationship issues, health problems or workplace stress, or has faced financial difficulties, they may be especially vulnerable to anguish right now.

Depending on your relationship, you might want to tread carefully. Personal friends, work colleagues, classmates and family members all require different approaches, said Phoenix Jackson, a licensed marriage and family therapist. She recommends carefully considering the power dynamics before you approach, as it’s easier to be vulnerable with someone if you’re on equal footing.

In some cases, even asking if someone is OK, “depending on how, where and when it’s posed, could be seen as an affront or even something where a case is being built to dismiss that person,” she said. She recommends reassuring the other person that you’re asking from a place of real concern. If the person doesn’t want to engage, say you respect their decision. Assure them you’ll drop the issue.

“When you check in with others, you are opening some vulnerability there and that takes some insight,” said Dr. Jena Lee, a child and adult psychiatrist and clinical instructor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at U.C.L.A. So it’s important to make sure you’re in a healthy place to be present and engage with someone who’s struggling.

Be explicit: “I notice you’ve been slower to respond to my text messages.” Or, “I see you’ve been sleeping a lot more than usual. Is there anything you want to talk about?”

By indicating you’ve noticed a change in their behavior, “you give them the opportunity to either confirm what you’re saying or deny it,” said Uche Ukuku, a psychologist. You’re not telling the other person how they feel, but you’re initiating a conversation and giving them a chance to address the change, she said.

If you have the kind of relationship where you can honor confidentiality, Ms. Jackson suggests offering it. Your promise might help them feel more secure confiding in you. If there’s potential for embarrassment or shame, she suggests letting the person know you understand if they’re not ready to have a conversation. Just reiterate that you care about them, which is why you’re asking.

When asking someone if they’re OK, the other person may reflexively reply they’re fine, which shuts the conversation down. Dr. Ukuku suggests keeping your questions open-ended:

“How are things?”

“Is anything on your mind?”

“What’s the most difficult thing you’ve experienced lately?”

If you are more familiar with this person, Dr. Lee suggests asking specific questions to show you care:

“How did your meeting go?”

“How are your kids adjusting to so many changes at school?”

This way, she said, your questions come out naturally. “What you’re trying to do is actually show that you want to know what their life is like and how they’re actually experiencing their circumstances,” she said.

Dr. Lee also recommends sharing a little bit about yourself to get the conversation rolling. Saying something like: “I’ve been so stressed. How have things been for you?” Or “I’m sick of cooking meals. How have you been handling staying home?” Opening the conversation this way, she said, gives the other person permission to air their own grievances and worries.

Ms. Jackson suggests sending a letter or postcard to someone as a way to let them know you’re thinking about them. You could write: “I’m wondering how you are.” The phrasing leaves a lot of room for people to choose whether to engage, Ms. Jackson said.

“When you’re in the conversation and someone is sharing with you a horrible situation that they’re going through, the first thing that most people think is, ‘What do I say? How can I help them?’” Dr. Lee said. It’s an understandable reaction, “but thinking about those things distracts your mind and you actually aren’t able to be empathetic,” she said.

She suggests putting yourself in their shoes. Even if you sit in silence, your facial expressions and body language will convey your empathetic reaction, Dr. Lee said. Validate your friend. Say that yes, their situation is painful. “The most helpful thing that we can do for each other is just share that you’re actually burdened together,” she said.

For complex problems with no easy solutions, you shouldn’t expect that you can resolve these issues on your own. If your friend is experiencing distress, Dr. Joiner suggests telling them to reach out to their primary care physician or family doctor for added support. If your friend is religious, encourage them to reach out to a clergy person as “they’re often really helpful with things like this,” he said.

Make a date to follow up

Coming up with a follow-up plan — a phone call in a few days, a socially distanced picnic, a Zoom call — not only gives the other person something to look forward to, but it also sends the message that this checkup isn’t going to be a one-time thing. It also takes the pressure off the other person from feeling as if they have to provide daily updates and gives you both space to process your conversation, Dr. Ukuku said.

“We don’t realize how much being seen can really change somebody’s mood,” she said. “The idea that you checked in on them is telling them, ‘Hey, not only am I seen, but also that I’m known and I’m loved.’”

There will be times when your friends aren’t able to communicate what they need from you. The goal, Dr. Ukuku said, is to plant a seed so that when they do need support, they’ll know you’re somebody they can reach out to.

A version of this article appears in print on July 27, 2020, Section B, Page 6 of the New York edition with the headline: Reaching Out to Someone Who Is Having a Difficult Time.