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I know these questions have been asked before but I would like some advice and perspectives on what I should do when mental health comes into the equation.

The context is: an undergraduate class with a significant project component (40%). The project consists of a research proposal and a presentation and was assigned on May 6th and due on June 4th.

We have a project that is due in five days (as of writing) that we have largely completed the project. One of our group members has not contributed anything, but is apparently dealing with personal issues and is depressed and very stressed due to the coronavirus. We have largely not been able to contact him and at the same time I have also not seen him appear in any class on Zoom nor has anyone else spoken to him. He's off the radar.

Of the times he came online, he apologized profusely and asked what he can do for the project. I answered and he agreed and I gave a deadline. Then he disappears for two weeks or so.

I am wondering if I should alert the professor or just let it go since he's going through a hard time (in his words, I do not know the actual situation). I know him well and he isn't a malicious person so I trust him but at the same time there is an information asymmetry here so I can't really assume either possibility. I'm also worried about his performance in another class (where an individual project and a final exam is coming up in a week). What should I do (or what would you advice?)

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I have been in your shoes in a similar situation when I was in undergrad. Our group member was also going through some hard times and did not contribute much to any of the project reports that were supposed to be written by all of us.

What we did was notify the professor but in a way that showed we were concerned for the student. I think it makes a big difference how the professor is notified, since you definitely don’t want to put the group member who claims to be going through a hard time in a though spot (it is good to give the person the benefit of the doubt). What happened in our case was that our professor has scheduled a meeting with all of us (in your case would be a zoom meeting, I suppose) and we discussed all together what happened so far and what must happen for the group member to successfully complete the class. That worked for the person in my group, although he felt really embarrassed by this situation, he actually contributed more to the project and kind of put himself back together- not only in our project but in all of his other classes.

Additionally to this, I have contacted the person and offered to be there for him if he needed someone to talk to. At the time we were not friends and maybe this looked a bit awkward, but in the end we became really good friends and he actually became a great student for the rest of the undergrad.

So, in short, I know you must be frustrated, as well as your group members, but realize that you have to bury this frustration deep and try to address the problem while being helpful. You guys are still undergrad and have a long way to go ahead of you. You don’t want to discourage your fellow because of a small thing like a group project.

And believe me, you could help change his life by being supportive and understanding in this period.

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  • Thanks for the advice! However I have not been able to contact him at all for a week (and before that for another two weeks) so it's incredibly hard to ascertain how I can help or setup a meeting. At the same time I do not know how to explain to the professor why he is not appearing during the presentation. I guess my biggest challenge is that I don't know how to communicate with him since I don't know how to contact him since he's almost never online. Any ideas? – Sky Jun 1 at 6:15
  • @Sky so many methods of communication now: letter, email, skype, facebook so try all of them and record your efforts... – Solar Mike Jun 1 at 6:22
  • Yeah, he doesn't respond to any of them (I haven't tried snail mails though but I don't even know where he lives currently). Which is why I really don't know what to do. – Sky Jun 1 at 6:28
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    Notify the professor and use a concerned language and ask him to schedule a meeting for all of you over zoom. He probably cannot ignore the professor. – Eylul Jun 1 at 6:42
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    I agree with the answer, but with 5 days to deadline there is not much either the student or the module leader can correct. – user117109 Jun 1 at 10:11
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Practically, you have no option but to share and complete his part of the work among the remaining parts of the group - the deadline is in five days, so not much can be done. The question is whether you decide to declare him as a full participant, as it is common practice in coursework (e.g. the "All members have contributed equally" statement in the cover, or an email to the module leader). I am inclined to give the benefit of the doubt for this assignment and suggest you included him as a full member, but take action for the next one. Contact the module leader, explain the potential situation, insist on not wanting the grade or workload to be affected and ask for his advice. I agree with the spirit of @Eylul, and hopefully it will go down that way, but if things go wrong you should ensure your work will not suffer and that you have followed the proper channels.

Also, be prepared to report the student to the student services if they show the same behaviour in the new assignment. This is not so much a moral but a practical issue. A mentally distressed person that does not fulfil student duties, is out of contact with staff and students, and does not reply to emails, is always a cause of worry for mental health officers.

If your doubts or your aversion towards doing someone else's work are stronger than the above, you should say on the cover that X did not contribute and in addition email the module leader and student services to see if any mitigating circumstances, like an extension or some adjustment in grading (unlikely), can be applied. If you have serious worries about the student's mental state (withdrawn for a very long time, suicidal etc) you should consider contacting student services now.

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