Common or Potential Signs of Distress

We all have bad days, times when we are anxious or feel sad or isolated. If these feelings persist for more than a week or two, or if they are so intense that they interfere significantly with the ability to work or function, then it makes sense to seek help.

If you observe one or more of signs of distress, please read the What you can do section of this website and/or consult with available University professional resources to talk through your concerns and about what you might do next.

Any of the following signs could be indicators that a student is in distress. Signs may be observed as changes in behaviors, habits and physical characteristics and/or in written, verbal, or electronic communications. Signs of distress are discussed in four categories in more detail below, and then lead you to what you can do.

  1. Verbal or written communications
  2. Changes in academic work or performance
  3. Changes in physical appearance or personal habits
  4. Social habits, and potentially aggressive or harassing behavior

1. Verbal or written communications (including academic work and via social media)

  • Talk that is suicidal or homicidal in nature
  • Talk of severe family problems or personal difficulties (related to, for example, death, loss, or rejection)
  • Expressions of hopelessness
  • Paranoid ideas or delusional statements

2. Changes in academic or work performance

  • Impaired concentration
  • Poor decision making
  • Repeated requests for extensions or accommodations
  • Erratic and/or marked decline in performance (academic, athletic, employment, etc.)
  • Missing academic, work, and/or other commitments and obligations, including exams, assignments, or scheduled hours or shifts

3. Changes in physical appearance or personal habits

  • Marked changes in personality
  • Prolonged sadness, tearfulness, depression
  • Sleep disturbance (sleeping too much or too little)
  • Extreme fatigue or lethargy
  • Change in appetite and/or marked weight change (refer to more information about eating concerns and when a friend has an eating disorder)
  • Self-injury, such as cutting
  • Panic (racing heart , shortness of breath, fear of dying)
  • Deterioration in hygiene or physical appearance
  • Blood shoot or dilated eyes, smelling of alcohol or marijuana (see information on Alcohol and Drug Use)

4. Social babits, and potentially aggressive or harrassing behaviors

  • Excessive or unprovoked anger, agitation, rage, hostility, or despair
  • Increased isolation and/or avoiding contact with friends, advisors, family and others with whom they are usually in contact
  • Withdrawal from or disruption in class, residence halls, the workplace, or other environments
  • Repeated, unwanted calls, communications, interactions, or presence
  • Unusual suspiciousness
  • Interest in or aquisition of weapons (sudden, new, or when coupled with other factors of concern)
  • Non-specific threats of violence
  • Veiled or direct threats, conveyed directly to a person or to a third party
  • Physical assaults, menacing actions with weapons or repeated physical violence to intimate partners.

Read now about What you can do.