How to Recognize a Student in Distress

A student in distress might indicate a need for assistance with:

  • Repeated requests for special consideration, extensions, etc.
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional responses
  • Withdrawal from activities or friends
  • Significant change in sleep or eating patterns
  • Declining academic performance
  • Excessive absences, especially if attendance was previously consistent
  • Perfectionism, procrastination, excessive worrying
  • Markedly changed patterns of interaction (avoiding participation or dominating discussion)

These signs might indicate a student in severe distress:

  • Depressed mood
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene; swollen, red eyes; falling asleep in class; excessively active and talkative
  • Inability to communicate
  • Garbled, slurred, disjointed or incoherent speech
  • Loss of contact with reality
  • Seeing/hearing things that do not exist
  • Suicidal thoughts or intentions
  • Overtly discussing, joking or hinting that suicide is a current and viable option
  • Highly disruptive behavior
  • Homicidal threats
  • Hostile, threatening or violent behavior

How to share your concern with a student

If you have a concern, talk to the student first. The student may have an explanation for the behavior or may ask for assistance. 

  • Talk to the student in private when both of you have time
  • Give the student undivided attention
  • Express your concerns in behavioral terms
  • Share an observation “I’ve noticed you’ve been acting differently than you usually do and I’m concerned”
  • Listen in a non-judgmental, non-threatening way
  • Communicate your understanding by repeating back the core of what the student has said
  • Avoid judging, evaluating, or criticizing 
  • Respect the student’s value system, even if you disagree

When to make a referral

You are encouraged to submit a concern form to make a referral if students:

  • Do not respond appropriately when you share your concern
  • Exhibit erratic or sudden changes in classroom performance
  • Exhibit uncharacteristic behavioral, mood, attitude or appearance changes
  • Are uncharacteristically inattentive, unresponsive, angry, argumentative or aggressive
  • Disclose mental health concerns and indicate a need for assistance
  • Exhibit behavior that is getting worse

You may also choose to make a referral when you:

  • Feel overwhelmed or unsure of how to proceed
  • Need to talk with someone about your observations or concerns 

How to encourage students to seek assistance

  • Let students know that it is not necessary to know exactly what is wrong in order to seek assistance
  • Assure students that seeking help does not mean their problems are unusual or extremely serious
  • Show students how they can seek assistance by using the concern form to refer themselves

Refer a student concern