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Supporting a Student in Distress

Common Concerning Behaviors

Although the terms, “concerning and “worrisome” are subjective, the following list of indicators provides some context when assessing whether a student may need additional support:

Academic Indicators

  • Persistent unexplained absences
  • Deterioration in quality/quantity of work
  • Extreme disorganization or erratic performance
  • Written or artistic expressions of unusual violence, morbidity, social isolation, despair, or confusion
  • Continual seeking of special permission (extensions, make-up work)
  • Patterns of perfectionism
  • Disproportionate response to grades or other evaluations

Emotional Indicators

  • Direct statements indicating distress
  • Significant change in mood
  • Angry or hostile outbursts, yelling, or aggressive comments
  • More withdrawn or more animated than usual
  • Appears over-anxious
  • Excessively demanding or dependent behavior
  • Fails to respond to outreach from staff/faculty

Physical Indicators

  • Deterioration in physical appears or personal hygiene
  • Excessive fatigue, exhaustion;
  • Erratic or disjointed thinking – skips around a lot; unable to stay focused on one topic; topics don’t align
  • Noticeable cuts, bruises, burns
  • Frequent or chronic illness
  • Disorganized speech, rapid or slurred speech; confusion
  • Substance abuse

Other factors to consider

  • Concern expressed by another student or teaching assistant
  • Student is experiencing substantial and prolonged financial or legal problems
  • A sixth sense or hunch that something is wrong


How to Respond

  • Allow the student to talk freely
  • Help student to clarify the problem
  • Identify what has worked in the past
  • Identify possible campus resources
  • Encourage student to seek support
  • Do not promise confidentiality
  • Take them seriously; Ask directly about what is going on
  • Respect and accept student’s value system

When helping a student in distress, trust your own insight and reactions.  It is essential to know your limitations and when to seek further assistance from Student Assistance at 315-443-4357 (HELP) or

Additional Campus Support when working with a student in distress

Counseling Center

Department of Public Safety