On Friday, Sept. 24 at 1 p.m., Dr. Frank Wang and Dr. Dixie Turner held a workshop called “Working With Students in Distress,” which focused on how members of the University of Maine community can better serve students who are struggling with their mental health. 

 “Distress is a state of suffering. It can feel or look like confusion, loneliness, isolation, [being] overwhelmed [or] anxiety,” defined Turner at the start of the workshop.

Turner continued to explain that students in college can face a multitude of stressors they may not have experienced before college. Most are far away from home and have never left home for an extended period of time before. Students also are struggling to fit in socially and make friends. On top of that, some students have never experienced the level of academic rigor that college demands. All of these things combined can cause a student stress and negatively impact their mental health. 

According to Wang, the best thing people can do for someone in distress is to listen to them. He explained the difference between sympathy and empathy. Sometimes sympathy can be more dismissive than empathy. When someone empathizes, they imagine themselves in the shoes of the person with the problem. 

One way to help people who may be having a difficult time is to use the RAPID model to combat situations. RAPID is an acronym that stands for rapport, assessment, prioritization, intervention and disposition. 

Wang explained that this model can be used by anyone, not just mental health clinicians, to offer support to people in need. “The RAPID model is a compassionate and supportive presence designed to mitigate acute distress and assess the need of continued mental health care,” said Wang. 

He further explained that this is not a replacement for therapy and that this model includes aspects that promote personal and community resilience. 

When thinking about how to establish rapport with someone in distress, it is important to listen to their problems. Wang and Turner modeled a mock conversation, where Turner said she had anxiety and said she was feeling down. Wang used reflective listening skills to validate her feelings and asked clarifying questions so he could fully empathize with and understand Turner. 

Wang and Turner made a point to say that people’s cultural experiences can impact how they express their emotions. They share that it’s never okay to ostracize people or place blame on their culture. People should be aware of their biases and work toward having empathy for everyone. 

The assessment phase entailed looking at the basic psychological and physical needs of those in distress. It’s important to notice changes in others and see if they are experiencing dysfunction or distress. Dysfunction is more serious and could require immediate attention. It can look like chest pain, suicidal thoughts, violence toward oneself or others, panic attacks or emotional numbness. Distress requires less immediate attention but can look like fear, sadness and trouble concentrating. 

If someone is a threat to themselves or others mental health, professionals or a comparable resource should get involved as soon as possible.

 The prioritization step is all about which needs should receive help first. Physical needs and safety come first, then affection and acceptance towards the person. Next, the person can receive help with self-esteem and self-actualization. It’s important to ask questions to prioritize needs and asses what stress and trauma the person has been exposed to. 

The point of intervention is to find the appropriate resources that can help students in distress. UMaine has its own police department, and if anyone is in distress they can call 207-581-4040. Other resources like the Counseling Center and Cutler Health Center can be contacted for students in emotional or physical distress. 

The last part of the RAPID model is disposition. This step is about how the student, and the person they reached out to for help, will move forward. After referring students to a resource, a staff member could check in with the student to show they care about the student’s well-being. It is important not to pry with the student in distress. It is also important to practice self care and take care of oneself after helping people in distress. 

Please reach out to any campus resources if a situation requires them.