University of Southern Indiana

Indicators of Distress

Look for multiple indicators and consider the frequency, duration, and severity—not just isolated symptoms.


  • Decline in quality of work/grades
  • Repeated absences
  • Disorganized thinking in writings/ presentations
  • Repeated requests for extensions
  • Overly demanding of faculty/staff time and attention
  • Conduct that interferes with class­room (or activity) engagement
  • Bizarre content in writings/presen­tations
  • Meetings with the student are dominated by personal content rather than educational matters


Marked changes in physical appearance. Includes deterioration in grooming, changes in hygiene, and weight loss/gain.

  • Excessive fatigue, listlessness
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Intoxication, hang over, smelling of alcohol
  • Disoriented, “out of it,” or forgetful
  • Garbled, rambling, tangential, disconnected, or slurred speech
  • Behavior out of context
  • Strange ideas/beliefs or paranoia
  • Isolation/withdrawal


  • Excessive self-disclosure of personal distress, losses, family problems, or financial difficulties
  • Withdrawal or agitation
  • Unusual/disproportional emotional response to events
  • Excessive tearfulness, panic reactions, irritability or apathy
  • Antagonistic and impulsive behavior
  • Verbally abusive (e.g., taunting, bad­gering, intimidation)
  • Expressions of concern about the student by his/her peers
  • Loss of pleasure
  • Major shifts in mood
  • Recent major stressor, such as: loss of a loved one, relationship break-up, etc.

Safety Risk:

  • Anger or hostility with little provocation
  • Physical violence (e.g., shoving, grabbing, assault, use of a weapon)
  • Direct threat to harm self or others
  • Vague statements about suicide or homicide (e.g., “Can’t go on like this”)
  • Academic assignments dominated by themes of hopelessness, rage, worth­lessness, and isolation, despair, acting out suicidal ideations/violent behaviors—a “cry for help”
  • Stalking or harassing others
  • Communicating threats via email, correspondence, and phone calls


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