First Aid for Stressful Situations

Two students talk on the quad

Exam week has a look: sweats, slippers, baseball cap, coffee in one hand, phone in the other. It also has an expression: equal parts extreme irritation and dog tired. 

But sleepiness, exhaustion, and irritability can be signs of deeper troubles than looming deadlines. Sometimes they are the hallmarks of anxiety, depression, even suicidal ideation. Now many URI faculty, staff, and students on the front lines have the training to recognize signs of distress.

The University has trained and certified more than 800 members of the URI community in Mental Health First Aid. The program trains participants to recognize signs of depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, self-harm behaviors, substance use and misuse, and psychosis. Training is mandated for all RAs, coaches, and trainers, says Lindsey Anderson, director of URI’s Psychological Consultation Center. URI is the first and only university in Rhode Island to offer the monthly trainings.

Today’s students are facing greater pressures than their parents’ generation due to socio-political and socio-cultural messages that are really loaded, Anderson said. Social media also takes its toll on the psyche. And then there are pressures around sexual consent, gender identity, food, housing, and financial insecurity for some students, Anderson says. Any one issue could force a crisis. Often, students are grappling with several. “And parents are less able to lean forward, and support students or they don’t know what to do,” Anderson says.

Beyond recognition of student distress, the goal of Mental Health First Aid is to help students find the appropriate resources they need to manage and move through their crises. That might entail the involvement of any number of other URI outreach programs and departments such as Health Services, Early Alert Services, the Counseling Center, the Dean of Students Office, the Gender and Sexuality Center, or the URI Police to name just some of the resources available to students. Mental Health First Aid trainees are apprised of all available resources on campus, and referrals with a “warm handoff go far to keep students engaged,” in the process, Anderson says.

To students, Anderson says, “Don’t give up. Ask for help. Maximize your use of all the valuable resources the campus has to offer.”