RA Training Outline: Confronting Threats of Self Harm in Residential Students

Preface: I’m going to start sharing Residence Life training resources here from time to time, especially in the summer when Student Affairs people are getting ready for August workshops. Why? Because we all have something to offer each other and unlike SOME web sites and programs that I will not name, I believe none of this information is so groundbreaking and secret that you have to pay $500-$1000 to train people to talk about it. Take this outline and refine it to your needs. If nothing else, it’s a starting point in the endless training sessions we prepare each year. If your boss doesn’t believe this information has any credibility because you didn’t pay $300 to hear it read to you in a boring webinar PowerPoint, feel free to hit up my etsy store and buy $300 worth of jewelry 🙂

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This information focuses on the role of the Resident Assistant in working with students who present mental health issues to them. It does NOT deal with how to detect students in crisis, since most of our students of concern (or their friends or roommates) are coming directly to staff or we are being notified by someone like the Dean of Students or a faculty member.

Start with the types of RESOURCES on campus and how their role is not as a long term therapist or problem solver, but one of a NOTIFIER and REFERRER. Write out these resources on the board before the session begins so they are visible when brainstorming responses. Helps them to see they are not alone in dealing with the student issues.
• Their supervisor
• Their Assistant Director/Area Coordinator
• Health & counseling services
• Office of Victims Assistance (if you have a Victim Advocate)
• Disability Services
• Wellness services
• Campus Police
• Dean of Students
• Community Counseling (if available in your area)
• OTHERS? The RL staff person on call?

MYTHS: Ask RAs to offer some first, talk about each one. Use the correct procedures and terminology for your campus. THIS is the stuff that scares them about these mental health situations and they should want to talk about this.
• Asking a student if they are thinking of harming or killing themselves will put the idea in their head. (False – Direct questioning is important.)
• You need to watch a student of concern 24 hours a day. (False – You are a First Responder and crisis manager.)
• You can help by holding their medication. (False – Not even professional RL staff should be doing that. We are not doctors or pharmacists.)
• It’s better to handle the situation yourself rather than get the police/duty staff involved. (False – Persuading someone not to hurt themselves is important but a short-term solution and RAs should not handle this burden on their own.)
• If they hurt themselves after they told you about their issues, it’s your fault. (False – NEVER)
• If they hurt themselves because you weren’t around when they wanted to talk, it’s your fault. (False – NEVER)
• Telling the RD or calling Campus Police will violate the students’ trust and confidentiality. (False – reporting up is required but doesn’t mean everyone will know the residents’ business. Confidentiality should never be promised.)
• You can’t turn away a student who needs you* (see below – that’s a whole other issue)

*Talk about the RARE people who drain resources or refuse help from anyone but the RA
• How to refer them
• How to not get sucked in to the drama
• How important it is to document interactions in clear and detailed reports
• How important it is to let your supervisor know
• How important it is to remember than you can utilize Health and Counseling Services as well!

Walk through some conversational “what ifs”:
What if a resident pulls you aside after a meeting/in the hall office/in your room and says:
• “I just wanted to let you know that I was hospitalized in high school for depression and cutting.”
• “I can’t be on the floor with the male RA because I was assaulted as a child by my uncle.”
• “Don’t worry; I cut so that I don’t do something worse.”
• “I’m pretty sure my suite-mate has an eating disorder.”


About deepfriedyankee

I am a parade of one. A seeker of bathtubmarys. A lover of Mardi Gras, bacon and marbles. I have the patience of a saint. A very, very flawed saint.
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One Response to RA Training Outline: Confronting Threats of Self Harm in Residential Students

  1. Mandy says:

    This is very good advice that I’ve passed on to the folks that are taking over the peer mentors that I had coordinated.

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