Here is a list of the most commonly observed signs of distress among students. This list is not intended to be comprehensive. You may occasionally meet students who have other behaviors that concern you.
- Missed classes and assignments
- Inability to concentrate and/or focus
- Persistent worrying
- Social isolation
- Increased irritability and/or anxiety
- Restlessness or lethargy
- Bizarre behavior
- Dangerous behavior
- Disheveled appearance
- Mood swings
- Under the influence of alcohol or drugs
Guidelines for Interacting with Distressed Students
Openly acknowledging to students that you are aware of their distress, that you are sincerely concerned about their welfare, and that you are willing to help them explore their alternatives, can have a profound effect. We encourage you, whenever possible, to speak directly and honestly to students whenever you sense that they are experiencing academic or personal distress.
- Request to see the student in private. A private conversation will minimize a student’s self-consciousness, embarrassment and defensiveness.
- Briefly acknowledge your observations and perceptions of the situation, expressing your concerns directly and honestly.
- Listen carefully to what is troubling the student. Try to understand her/his issue from her/his point of view, without necessarily agreeing or disagreeing.
- Attempt to identify the student’s problem or concern, as well as your own concern or uneasiness. You can also help by exploring alternatives to deal with the problem.
- Comment directly on what you have observed, without judging or interpreting. Strange and inappropriate behavior should not be ignored.
- Involve yourself only as far as you want to go and are comfortable. Remember, you are not expected to be a mental health expert! At times, in an attempt to reach or help a troubled student, you may become more involved than time or skill permits. Extending yourself to others always involves some risk - but it can be a gratifying experience when kept within realistic limits.