Indicators of Distress

Recognizing Students in Distress

Everyone, at one time or another, has experienced difficulties. It is important to identify certain patterns of behavior in students which, when present over a period of time, indicate that something is wrong and professional help may be needed. The following behaviors which might be noticed in a classroom, lab or advising situation indicate a need for follow-up:

  • A change in academic performance such as striking diminished grades or excessive absences.
  • A marked change or unusual pattern of interaction with classmates or instructor. This may mean completely dominating a discussion, or avoiding any discussion whatsoever.
  • Repeated requests for special consideration – for example, deadline extensions, especially if the student seems uncomfortable or highly emotional disclosing the reasons for the request.
  • Behavior, new or regularly occurring, that is vastly out of place and is disruptive to the classroom environment.
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional response that is inappropriate to the situation – for example, needing to leave the room upon presentation of certain material.
  • Inappropriate anger in response to limit setting.

Signs indicating the student may be depressed or suicidal include:

  • Tearfulness, sadness, lack or interest in activities.
  • Difficulty concentrating, focusing, making decisions.
  • Lack of energy, increased sluggishness, lethargy.
  • Deterioration in personal hygiene.
  • Evidence of increased or excessive alcohol or drug use.
  • Hopelessness, having no sense of purpose in life.
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and others.
  • Talking about wanting to hurt or kill one-self.
  • Preoccupation with death or suicide through writing, speaking, etc.

Other signs which may be indicative of a serious mental illness include:

  • Marked personality change.
  • Inability to cope with simple problems and daily activities.
  • Strange or grandiose ideas.
  • Confused or paranoid thinking.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Bizarre behavior or verbalization.
  • Extreme moodiness.

Warning signs of violent or threatening behavior:

  • Verbal threats or threatening behavior.
  • Physical intimidation, shoving, rough “horseplay”.
  • Harassment (sexual and otherwise).
  • Domestic violence or stalking.
  • Fascination and/or access to weapons.
  • Increasing despair.
  • Increased stressors or loss (financial, relationships, housing, etc.)