UCLA Beautiful Mind Project Presents: The Distressed Student Workshop
It is that time of the quarter again, where the libraries are brimming with sleepless students fraught with anxiety about the upcoming, dreaded final exams. In an effort to reemphasize the importance of mental health, UCLA MSA’s Beautiful Mind Project hosted a Distressed Student Workshop led by UCLA’s very own Dr. Yusef Daulatzai, who is a staff psychologist for UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS).
In this workshop, Dr. Daulatzai talked about the importance of spotting the signs of common mental health conditions in college students, and of taking actions to help either yourself, or your peers. By recognizing the signs early, an intervention becomes more plausible, and is more effective. This workshop set out to increase awareness of signs of distress, build peer counseling skills, and teach students the skills that they need in order to intervene, and to refer distressed students to the right professional. To actually be able to recognize poor mental health signs, a distinction between mental health and mental illness needs to be made. According to Dr. Daulatzai, mental health isn’t just the baseline of functioning, but it also encompasses surviving, and thriving as well. It also isn’t just the absence of pathology, or non-functionality. Defining mental illness, on the other hand, comes with a wide range of diagnostic criteria that is best left to professionals to discern.
Dr. Daulatzai mentioned that for American-Muslims, the current political atmosphere in the United States is one of fear and anxiety. Especially for women wearing the hijab, the mental state of Muslims’ become that of hypervigilance in response to fear of personal safety. Since the mind is designed to protect itself based on previous experiences, Muslims are in a constant state of worry, which is leading to higher instances of anxiety disorders within the Muslim community. He warned the audience of people normalizing changes in the political climate, which affects our identity, and it is through identity that our mental health is shaped. He urged against such normalization. He also touched on how, oftentimes, cultural prejudices practiced by family and friends may not necessarily make for a safe and welcoming space to discuss mental health concerns.
In terms of academia and mental health of college students, he asked the audience to think of ways to move from just being aware, to being more engaged in a respectful and dignified manner. Since stress is so prevalent among college students, he provided the following indicators that may accompany a distressed student:
- Sudden and noticeable changes in behavior
- Changes in social behavior and interactions
- Significant changes in physical hygiene and fatigue
- Erratic behavior
- Comments about feeling worthless or hopeless; thoughts of suicide
- Changes in sleep patterns, appetite, or weight
- Drastic changes in class attendance, grades, and work performance.
- Substance abuse and/or addiction concerns
Dr. Daulatzai further talked about how unresolved issues, such as the ones mentioned above, can turn into serious mental health conditions, like depression or anxiety disorders, if gone unchecked for too long. He analogized anger and depression as such: “Anger is depression turned outwards; depression is anger turned inwards.” In order to prevent such escalations, it is very important to be able to reach out to peers and other students to help create a safe space to openly talk about day-to-day struggles. He also strongly emphasized the importance of fostering a non-judgmental and private environment. However, he pointed out that privacy does not come with a confidentiality clause, especially when the individual is at risk of harming themselves, or harming others, wherein it becomes an absolute necessity to get in touch with relevant professionals. In order to help, he advised the use of the following:
- Attend: Do so with non-verbal listening, and sans judgment.
- Listen actively:
- Paraphrase: Employ when there are opportunities or breaks in the individual’s story; relay back to them their story. This provides a chance for the other person to provide clarifications or corrections.
- Summarize: use to integrate a group of reflections
- Validate feelings: Try to understand the situation from their perspective, and do not tell them how to feel. Acknowledge the validity of their feelings.
- Ask open ended questions: Exclude yes/no questions.
- Relay back the story: Connect their feeling with their situation; do not try to solve their problem by providing solutions.
- Offer Referrals: CAPS, Ashe Health Center, GRIT Peer Counseling
As a listener and a fellow student, it is also important to set boundaries by establishing availability, and by listing accessible resources. This prevents the burnout of the listener. Lastly, Dr. Daulatzai concluded with the following:
Refer, Consult, Refer!
UCLA On-campus resources:
- UCLA’s Consultation and Response Team (CRT)
- Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
- Phone: (310) 825-0768
- Arthur Ashe Student Health & Wellness Center
- Phone: (310) 825-4073
- GRIT Peer Coaching Program
In case of emergencies, call 911.