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Signs of Distress

Recognizing Signs of Distress in Students

Everyone experiences stress but when reactions are prolonged or severe, students may have trouble coping. Here are some signs of students in distress. The number and intensity of these signs can indicate the level of distress:

  • Serious change in the quality of the student's work
  • Excessive absences from class
  • Exaggerated and inappropriate emotional responses
  • Unusual or changed patterns of interaction in class
  • Disruptive in-class behavior
  • Depressed behavior such as lack of energy, deterioration in personal appearance

Indicators that reflect a more serious problem and require an immediate response:

  • Inability to communicate clearly due to garbled speech or disconnected thoughts
  • Loss of touch with reality (e.g., individuals report hearing or seeing things that do not exist or express beliefs that conflict with reality)
  • Talking about committing suicide (e.g., “I can’t go on...there’s no reason to continue”)
  • Threatening to seriously harm or even kill someone

Responding to a Student in Distress

In non-emergency situations, you might decide not to intervene if the problems seem minor or temporary. When choosing to speak to a student, the following guidelines may help:

  • Speak to the student privately whenever possible.
  • Focus on behaviors that you notice are different. Instead of saying, "You seem depressed," say, "I have noticed that your assignments aren’t up to par lately. Is something going on?"
  • Indicate your willingness to help, but recognize your limits. It is not your job to become the student's therapist.
  • When in doubt about a situation, call Student Counseling Services (SCS) and consult with a staff member.

Student Behavioral Intervention Team

Illinois State University students who display unhealthy and/or dangerous patterns of behavior can be reported to the Redbird Care Team through the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs. The Intervention Team seeks to identify Illinois State University students who display unhealthy or dangerous patterns of behavior and, when deemed necessary, recommend appropriate steps in response.