Faculty, staff, parents, and friends of students are often among the first to notice students who are encountering overwhelming amounts of stress in their daily lives. This stress can seriously affect their academic progress, personal relationships, and enjoyment of daily everyday life. Below are some indications of students in distress and guidelines to follow if you are concerned about a student.
Please note that any one of the following indicators alone does not necessarily suggest that a student is experiencing severe distress. However, several of the signs taken together may well indicate that the student needs or may be asking for help.
- Anxiety, extreme restlessness, inability to concentrate or relax.
- Decrease or increase in appetite.
- Decrease or increase in sleep.
- Loss of interest in formerly pleasurable or meaningful activities such as classes, social life, intimate relationships.
- Expression of irrational fears.
- Physical complaints without a medical cause, such as headache, stomach pains, etc.
- Unusual ritualistic or repetitive behavior.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Suicidal thoughts, plans, threats.
- Overwhelming financial obligations.
- History of emotional problems (e.g. depression, alcohol, drug abuse, eating disorder, anxiety, suicide attempts).
- Traumatic family event(s) such as recent separation or divorce of parents, serious illness or death of family member, physical, emotional, or sexual abuse at home.
- Recent loss of an important person (either by death or by separation/break-up).
- Recent loss of esteem.
- Deterioration in quality of work
- Missed assignments or appointments.
- Repeated absence from class or laboratory
- Continual seeking of unusual accommodations (extensions, postponed examinations)
- Essays or papers that have themes of hopelessness, social isolation, rage or despair
- Acting withdrawn
- Inappropriate disruption or monopolization of classroom
Physical or Psychological Indicators
- Deterioration in physical appearance or personal hygiene
- Excessive fatigue or sleep difficulties
- Unusual weight gain or loss
- rated personality traits or behaviors (e.g. agitation, withdrawal, lack of apparent emotion)
- Unprovoked anger or hostility
- Irritability, constant anxiety or tearfulness
- Marked changes in concentration and motivation
- Social isolation, withdrawal, lethargy
- Inability to focus on a specific topic in a conversation or activity
- Disorganized thinking and speech, feelings that are inappropriate to the situation, lack of affect or other evidence that student is “out of touch with reality”
- Expression of feelings of persecution, strong mistrust of others
- Violent outbursts
- Signs of excessive alcohol or drug use
- Expressions of general unhappiness over a period of several weeks
- Frequent class absence or “disappearance” over extended periods of time
- Gain or loss of significant amounts of weight
- Abrupt change in manner, style or personal hygiene
- Increasing dependence on others
Other Factors to Consider
- Direct statements indicating family problems, personal losses such as death of a family member, or the break-up of a relationship
- Expressions of concern about a student by peers
- Written statements or verbalization of hopelessness, futility or lack of energy
- Your own sense, however vague, that something is seriously amiss with the student