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Identifying and Responding to Students in Distress

Faculty and staff interact with students on a daily or regular basis and may notice behaviors that raise questions about a student’s well-being and/or the safety of the student or others. Below are categories and examples of behaviors that may indicate serious difficulties:

Displaying emotions that are:

  • inappropriate for the situation or are more exaggerated or erratic than normal (e.g., extremely withdrawn or animated)
  • aggressive (e.g., resentful, irritable, abrasive, hostile, frustrated)
  • sad/depressed (e.g., tearful, hypersensitive, full of despair, feels worthless)

Acting in ways that:

  • are aggressive (e.g., threatening others, discussing previous violent actions, developing antagonist relationships)
  • suggest a student may be sad, depressed or possibly suicidal (e.g., excessive change in weight, withdrawn or reclusive, giving away prized possessions, difficulty sleeping, listless, no energy, talk of death or dying)
  • suggest a student may not be able to take care of oneself (e.g., decline in personal hygiene, inability to make decisions despite receiving help, disjointed thoughts and impaired speech, losing touch with reality, seeing/hearing things that aren't there)

Communicating messages to you that indicate problems:

  • obsession with death, weapons, or even a romantic or religious obsession
  • thoughts of suicide or discussing "going away" or discovering a way to "solve all their problems"
  • being under an unusual amount of stress

Significant change in or poor school performance:

  • used to get As and Bs and now is receiving Ds and Fs
  • overly dependent on you
  • infrequent attendance
  • procrastination, turning in poor or no work at all
  • making repeated requests for special considerations like extended deadlines
  • difficulty concentrating
  • displaying behaviors that interfere with class

*Adapted from Ithaca College