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.
- 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.)