Identifying Distress

Signs of Distress

At times, faculty members may take note of changes in a student's behavior or in one's appearance. Some of the signs that a student may be experiencing distress include the following:

  • Changes in attendance, decline in one's academic performance, or failing to follow through on assignments and tests.
  • Changes in behavior: becoming withdrawn and less involved in the class or becoming more aggressive and disruptive, more pressured speech.
  • Changes in appearance: decline in hygiene, weight loss or weight gain, evidence of lack of sleep.
  • Appearing very agitated or hyperactive, easily frustrated.
  • Difficulty concentrating, both in the classroom and as evidenced on tests.
  • Becoming more grandiose, self-important and inflated self-esteem.
  • Becoming tearful or emotional for no apparent reason.
  • Excessive involvement in activities that may have harmful consequences (e.g., excessive shopping, gambling, drinking, smoking).

Depression to Suicide

Almost everyone reports having days when they just feel "down" - nothing in particular but just an overall feeling of blah-ness. But when students experience long-standing periods of depression, without proper treatment, this can lead to a sense of hopelessness and despair and result in suicidal thought or intent. Some of the signs of depression may include changes in appetite, sleep disturbances, increased physical complaints, trouble concentrating, changes in mood, as well as a decreased interest in activities that once gave the student pleasure. With prompt and proper treatment (therapy and, in some cases, medication) depression can easily be treated. However, when left untreated, the symptoms can worsen and result in suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Some of the risk factors for suicide include:

  • Previous suicide attempts by the student
  • Having a friend or family member who has committed suicide
  • Having an overriding preoccupation with death
  • Making suicidal threats or comments
  • No future orientation; basically, having given up on one's future
  • Giving away treasured items
  • Having a plan for committing suicide
  • Having a means for carrying out the plan
  • Having the belief that suicide is the only way to escape the pain and hopelessness one feels.

Frequently, an individual's risk for suicide may be heightened when one is coming out of a depressed state. This is the time when professionals are most concerned that the individual who once was suicidal and had seriously contemplated suicide now feels he/she has the energy necessary to do so. Monitoring a student who has been severely depressed is an ongoing process, until one senses that the individual can guarantee safety and is showing marked signs of progress and improvement in one's emotional state.

Violent Behavior

Warning Signs

Typically, students who act out violently have problems controlling their feelings and behaviors and are more likely to be impulsive. Some of the warning signs of violence include the following:

  • Frequently losing one's temper
  • Vandalism: disregard for others' property or possessions
  • Increased alcohol or drug use
  • Increased risk-taking behaviors
  • Threatening or planning to intentionally hurt others
  • Purposefully hurting animals
  • Carrying a weapon
  • Gang membership
  • Bullying or having been a victim of bullying
  • Frequent problems with authority
  • A history of discipline problems
  • An inability to recognize others' feelings or rights

Resources for Non-Students


Back to top of page.