How to Support a Longhorn
Common Signs of Potential Distress
Physical pain (body aches, headaches, gastrointestinal pain) and/or lack of energy
Loss of interest in or withdrawal from:
- Hobbies or social activities (e.g., giving up hobbies, not responding to texts or calls)
- Academics (e.g., missing class sessions, not turning in assignments, etc.)
- Job (e.g., missing work meetings or calls, using alcohol or drugs while on the job)
Depression or lethargy
Excessive tension or worry
Restlessness or hyperactivity
Increase in alcohol or drug use
Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
Self-injury (e.g., cutting, scratching, burning)
Unusual or exaggerated response to events (e.g., overly suspicious or agitated, easily startled)
How to Support Someone in Distress
If it’s possible and safe, talk to the person privately.
If you are reaching out to someone you primarily interact with online, consider sending them a private email or message asking to talk to them by phone or video call. Give the person and the conversation your undivided attention.
Be honest, direct and nonjudgmental.
Share what you have observed and why it concerns you. For example, “I’ve noticed you haven’t been answering your text messages or been as talkative as usual.”
Understand that they might be upset or not want to talk to you.
No matter how kind and empathetic you are, expressing concern for someone may bring up feelings of defensiveness, fear, or anger. Remember that you cannot control the other person’s reaction to you or make decisions for them.
Listen carefully and sensitively.
Practice reflective listening by paraphrasing the other person to make sure you are understanding them and to validate their experience.
Do not make assumptions about anyone’s experience.
There are systemic and environmental factors that could be contributing to distress. Examples of these factors include experiences of discrimination or oppression, lack of stable housing or income, food insecurity, and being in a home where their identity is not validated or valued.
Respond with care.
Do not dismiss or minimize the person’s concerns. Let them know there is help available.
Let the person know that, if they are comfortable with it, you will check back in with them later to see how they are doing.
If you are concerned about a distressed student, staff or faculty member and need advice about how to have this conversation, contact the Behavior Concerns and COVID-19 Advice Line (BCCAL) 512-232-5050.
Recognize Your Limits and Care For Yourself
Remember that you have limits, and be honest with yourself and the person you are supporting about what you can and cannot do or commit to.
Take care of yourself throughout the process of supporting someone else. If you are taking care of yourself, you will be better able to help. Supportive services, such as the Counseling and Mental Health Center for students and Employee Assistance Program, are available for members of the UT community.
Understand Your Reporting Obligations
Staff and faculty are mandated reporters under Title IX. Before reaching out to a student or employee you are concerned about, make sure you understand the limits of your confidentiality and your obligations. Communicate this information so that they understand your role.
In most circumstances, students are not required to report knowledge of Title IX related matters to the university. However, if you are working to support someone in your role as a student employee or another leadership role, you may be a mandated reporter. If you have a question about mandated reporting, contact your supervisor or the Title IX Office. If relevant, communicate information about your reporting obligations to the student so that they understand your role.
Staff and Faculty Supporting a UT Student
UT students may experience a wide variety of concerns and challenges. The Counseling and Mental Health Center provides information about some common student concerns, many of which may be exacerbated by the current situation. In addition to the general information about supporting a Longhorn provided above, keep the following in mind when working to support a UT student.
Consider power dynamics.
When reaching out to a student, particularly a student who you currently teach or employ, be mindful of the power dynamics at play. A student might worry that their response to you reaching out will affect their grades or employment. While you may be reaching out because of a concern related to their academic or job performance, make it clear that they are under no obligation to disclose personal information.
Understand your role.
Students often share their concerns with friends, roommates and peers rather than or before seeking support from university services. It is okay to be unsure or to not “have all the answers.” You can make a difference for fellow Longhorns by being supportive, empathetic, and helping connect them to resources that provide ongoing support.
Managers Supporting Their Employees
During these uncertain times when the world has been in a state of chronic crisis, managers are challenged to know how to help their staff. There are many problems you can’t fix. The goal is to provide calm and trustworthy leadership. Here are some ideas for how to do that.
Take care of yourself.
Acknowledge your feelings and take a few moments to assess how to recharge and reach out for support to be less reactive and more responsive.
Make yourself accessible.
Look for opportunities to check in with your staff individually and collectively. Your acknowledgment of their particular challenges and receptivity to their input helps to build trust and increases resilience
Evaluate your expectations and be flexible.
We have changed in response to the multiple challenges we have experienced. Don’t automatically fall back on familiar ways of doing things. Evaluate your efforts and identify when flexibility can help your employees and possibly provide an improved service.
Recognize that when a person isn’t sure their basic needs can be met, it is difficult to concentrate, learn new things, and create new solutions. You can help by normalizing the feelings your employees are having and taking time to help them feel heard through reflective listening. You might say something like, “I know these are difficult times, and it may be difficult to think about how our work can adapt when so much is uncertain. It is normal to feel this way.”
Verbalize the purpose, values and goals of your department.
People get through hard times when they know they are making a difference and can connect the work they are doing to their values. Your articulation of how your employees are making a difference is meaningful and should not be underestimated. Remind people of how they have and will make a difference to customers, colleagues and the community.
Strategize solutions with your team.
When possible provide an opportunity for the team to talk about their current work experiences and share honestly about the work challenges they are facing. Ask your team to work collaboratively on solutions and to give input on alternatives. When so much is out of our control it can help employees to feel some sense of control over their day to day activities and responsibilities.
Look for opportunities to have fun together.
When you meet with your team, spending just five minutes talking about pets, self-care or funny anecdotes can lighten the mood and increase energy.
Consult and provide resources and referrals.
When you are not sure how to talk about a sensitive matter, are afraid of the emotions an employee is expressing, or need more information, the following offices can provide consultation to you or to the employee you manage: Strategic Workforce Solutions (SWS), ADA Coordinator, Dispute Resolution Officer, Ombuds and EAP