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 their 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  • Exaggerated personality traits; more withdrawn or more animated than usual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. It will depend on what you know is "normal" for your student.

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.