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Signs of Distress or Crisis

office of the dean of students

The Signs

It is common for students to feel distress at one time or another due to difficulties with adjustment, stress, anxiety, self-esteem, and relationship problems and may exhibit symptoms such as depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and more. There are warning signs when symptoms of distress persist over time and may suggest that the problem may be a cause for concern.

A crisis is a situation in which an individual’s usual style of coping is no longer effective, and the emotional or physiological response begins to escalate.

Knowing the severity of a student’s distress is important to providing the best response and support.

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Signs of Distress

• Changes in academic performance

• Changes in attendance at class or meetings

• Depressed or lethargic mood

• Hyperactivity and/or rapid speech

• Withdrawal from friends or daily activities

• Marked change in personal habits

• Repeatedly falling asleep in class

• Behavior that pushes the limits of decorum and that interferes with the educational environment

• Unusual or exaggerated emotional response to events

Signs of a Mental Health Crisis

• Destruction of property or other criminal acts

• Extreme anxiety resulting in panic reactions

• Inability to communicate

• Suicidal statements or attempts

• Loss of contact with reality or highly irrational thinking

• Highly disruptive behavior

• Confused and repetitive thinking

• Fighting or assaultive behavior

• Physical signs such as immobilization, shaking, agitation, and aggression

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What You Can Do for a Student in Distress or Crisis

If you choose to approach a student you are concerned about or if a student seeks you out, here are some suggestions:

• Talk to the student in private when both of you have time and are not rushed or preoccupied.

• Be direct and specific. Express your concern in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms. For example, say, “You look stressed. I’m concerned about you. Can you tell me what is going on?”

• Listen sensitively.

• Be aware of resources and make a referral to an appropriate department, or to the designated person in your school, such as the Dean or Associate Dean.

• Follow up. Check with the student later to find out how he or she is doing. Provide support as appropriate.