Recognizing and Working with Distressed Students

Characteristics of Distressed Students

  • Declining academic performance
  • Excessive absences
  • Inability to concentrate during lecture or while completing assignments
  • Unusual or noticeably changed interaction patterns in classroom
  • Depressed, crying, or apathetic mood, excessive activity or talkativeness
  • Change in appearance or hygiene, missed tests, or inability to remain awake during class
  • Repeated attempts to obtain deadline extensions or postpone tests
  • New or continuous disruptive behavior
  • Inappropriate, exaggerated emotional reactions to situations, or lack of emotional response to stressful events
  • Violent or other extremely disruptive behaviors: hostile, threats, assault
  • Obvious loss of contact with reality: seeing, hearing, feeling things not apparent to others, thoughts or behaviors inconsistent with reality
  • Disturbed speech or communication content: incoherent, grandiose, disorganized rambling
  • Suicidal or other self-destructive thoughts or actions
  • Homicidal threats

Tips for Helping Distressed Students

  • Arrange to talk in private
  • Help student identify specific concerns/sources of stress
  • Ask about both thoughts and feelings
  • Reflect student’s concerns
  • Explore possible alternative solutions to the problem
  • Remain objective – avoid judging or evaluating the student’s circumstances or situation
  • Follow up with student
  • Refer to Counseling Services

Circumstances that may necessitate a referral to CAPS

  • Personal feeling of discomfort/unease dealing with student or topic
  • High level of stress in own life
  • Lack of time
  • Personal feelings that may interfere with objectivity
  • Student’s stated desire for professional assistance
  • Potential conflict of interest
  • Student’s desired assistance is beyond faculty or staff’s professional expertise