Knowing How to Support Our Peers and How to Best Utilize the University Counseling Service

The following excerpt was taken from a transcript of Honors DEI Council member William’s interview with Dr. Barry Schreier. The interview covered topics concerning mental health in marginalized, high achieving college students. Dr. Schreier is a licensed psychologist in the state of Iowa and currently serves as the director of the higher education program in the Scanlan School of mental health, while also occupying various other roles at the University of Iowa.

William: I wanted to ask a question about students supporting one another. When it comes to helping our peers, where would you draw the line between things that students can help other students with on their own, and things that may require the help of the University Counseling Service?

Dr. Schreier: So, lines are hard. One thing I will say is that being emotional is not a crisis, nor is it even really distress, per se. Upsetting things are upsetting, and we tend to get sad about things that are sad. I had a faculty member call me the other day and ask me to come over to talk to one of his students who was crying because his Mom had texted him that his dog was run over. I told him, well, he seems to be upset about something that is clearly upsetting. I don’t know if anything’s wrong. He doesn’t feel good, of course, but maybe he just needs to talk to you. Because if he goes to the University Counseling Service he’s gonna have to talk to a stranger. A kind, listening stranger, but a stranger no less. So, yeah, maybe he just needs to talk to you unless you don’t know how to talk to him, which I’m assuming you do. And he said that that was a good point. So that’s a good thing to think about in terms of our friends and peers. Just because someone’s upset doesn’t mean that anything’s wrong. It’s okay to be upset about something that’s upsetting. Oftentimes we just need to turn to people we know and tell them that we’re struggling.

I tell people to use this thing called the gossip model when they’re upset. The gossip model basically goes like this: imagine somebody turns to you and tells you “Will, guess what so and so did!” and you’re like, “what?!”, and they say “well, so and so did this” and you say “really?!” and you keep going back and forth with all these questions because you want to get the data and know the story. So that’s what we want to do when we’re not doing well. We don’t want to bring that gossipy tone to it, but when people tell you that they’re depressed ask them why, ask them how they’re feeling. Ask them to describe that feeling to you, or how long has it been going on, or if something’s happened. You ask them all these questions because it helps the person think through their story. When someone’s really emotional, their brain isn’t thinking rationally and so asking them these questions helps get their intellect kicking again and helps them get through all of this stuff. So we can do really nice things for each when we’re upset by just leaning in and asking questions. We really don’t have to send people to the University Counseling Service until they’re distressed, which means they’re really emotional all the time and nothing’s wrong. But stress is normal and regular, and emotionality happens when bad stuff occurs. Keeping that gauge in mind and helping each other tell our stories, helps.

William: That’s a very interesting point. Listening to someone when they’re going through somethings because it helps them think through their story. I’ve heard that listening to people when they’re upset is helpful, but I’d never connected it to them having to rationally think about why they’re feeling the way that they are.

Dr. Schreier: I mean, we’re talking about Honors students, who are prized for their intellect. One of the things I want you to do when you’re being emotional is reengage with your intellect. It’s your superpower if you’re an Honors student, apparently! (laughs). You’ve already done a thousand things using your intellect so reengaging with it is what will help get you through this thing, too.

About the author:

William is a third year student majoring in Biomedical Sciences and minoring in Italian. Outside of class, he is an undergraduate research assistant in a cardiology lab and works as a nursing assistant in a Medical Surgical Services unit at the UIHC. William also regularly volunteers with UI Mobile Clinic, which aims to provide healthcare to underserved communities in the area.

Walking around campus, you may find him speeding down the sidewalk on his unicycle, which he enjoys taking on long rides around Iowa City. He may also be ambushing his friends with a solo ukulele concert, or playing tennis with the university club team.

William hopes to use his experiences as a biracial student through his position of Internal Committee Vice chair to help design a more inclusive campus community for all.


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