4.3 -  When should I be concerned?

MindMatters in Minutes. When should I be concerned?

When you’re in school you see all sorts of behaviour, some of which might make you concerned about a student’s mental health. On the one hand you want to catch problems early, but on the other hand you don’t want to overreact to every single issue.  So how do you know when you should take action?

It’s hard to say because everyone behaves differently.

Imagine you have a bucket. This bucket represents your capacity to cope with the stressors in your life. For a student this could mean anything from disappointing grades, to a sick parent, to conflicts with friends.

Most of the time we have the capacity to manage these stressors with no change in outward behaviour.

But if the stressors mount up and you get over capacity then the bucket flows over and that’s when you and the people around you might begin to notice something is not quite right. It could be anything from a subtle slump in your mood, to something obvious like becoming super grouchy and argumentative.  

Now imagine that everyone has these buckets but they are all different shapes and sizes, and they’re all filled with different stressors, and you have no idea what those stressors are because you can’t see what’s in other people’s buckets—you only see what happens when one of them overflows—and then that overflow behaviour is different for everyone. What might be alarming for one person might be completely normal for someone else.

It’s a complicated situation, but there’s actually a pretty simple way to approach it. When you start to feel concerned about a student, trust your instincts but don’t rush to conclusions.

Consider the student on four dimensions: emotional, psychological, behavioural and physical. What changes do you see in any or all of these areas? How significant are the changes? How long do they persist?

A significant decline in any one of these areas, sustained over a number of weeks, should give you reason to be concerned.

Keeping notes of your observations can help you spot patterns over time and provides valuable documentation

If a student is clearly endangering themselves or others, then it’s appropriate to seek immediate support from staff or emergency services, but this is a very rare situation.

Usually you will have time to collect your thoughts, make your observations—and most importantly—discuss the situation with other members of staff. And this is key. If you are ever concerned about a student, don’t keep it to yourself. Talk to your colleagues.

So in the words of Douglas Adams, don’t panic. Observe, take notes, look for persistent changes, and talk with your colleagues. If you are still concerned, then it is a strong sign you need to take action.