Counseling and Psychological Services
Information for Family and Friends

Noticing Signs of Distress

  • The following can all be important signs of distress.

    You may notice a student exhibiting one or more of these and decide that something is clearly wrong. Or you may have a "gut-level feeling" that something is amiss. If the latter is the case, don't dismiss your feelings or feel that you need to wait for tangible "proof" that a problem exists. A simple check-in with the student may help you get a better sense of his/her situation.

    Academic Indicators

    • Deterioration in quality/quantity of work
    • A negative change in classroom or research performance (e.g., drop in grades)
    • Missed assignments or exams
    • Repeated absences from class, research lab, or study groups
    • Disorganized or erratic performance
    • Decline in enthusiasm in class (e.g., no longer choosing a seat in the front of the room)
    • Student sends frequent, lengthy, "ranting" or threatening types of emails to professor/TA
    • Continual seeking of special provisions (e.g., late papers, extensions, postponed exams, and projects)

    Physical Signs

    • Falling asleep in class or other inappropriate times
    • A dramatic change in energy level (either direction)
    • Worrisome changes in hygiene or personal appearance
    • Significant changes in weight
    • Significant changes in how the student keeps personal areas organized or cleanliness of these areas (i.e. bedroom, work space)
    • Frequent state of alcohol intoxication (i.e., bleary-eyed, hung-over, smelling of alcohol)
    • Noticeable cuts, bruises or burns on student
    • Physical attacks on property, animals or others

    Emotional Signs

    • Inappropriate emotional outbursts (unprovoked anger or hostility, sobbing)
    • Exaggerated personality traits; more withdrawn or more animated than usual
    • Expressions of hopelessness, fear or worthlessness; themes of suicide, death and dying in papers/projects
    • Direct statements indicating distress, family problems, or other difficulties
    • Peer concern about a fellow student (in class, lab, residence hall, club)

    It is possible that any one of these signs, in and of itself, may simply mean that a student is having an "off" day. Sharing your observations with a friend, a dean, a CAPS therapist or other trusted member of the SU community might provide an opportunity for you to process your feelings and discuss possible options for response.

    Please note, any one serious sign (e.g., a student writes a paper expressing hopelessness and/or thoughts of suicide) or a cluster of smaller signs (e.g., emotional outbursts, repeated absence, a noticeable cut on the arm) suggests intervention is required.