Recognizing a Student in Distress

These are general indicators that a student may be having difficulty coping with a traumatic experience, dealing with an alcohol or drug use disorder, or experiencing another significant wellness issue.

The best indicator of a problem is a change in behavior, appearance, attitude or personality. Below are some more detailed examples:

  • Marked Change in Academic Performance or Behavior
    • Excessive absences or tardiness
    • Inappropriate disruption or monopolization of class time
    • Avoidance of class participation
    • Significant deterioration in quality of work
    • Frequent requests for special considerations, especially when this represents a change from previous functioning
  • Unusual Behavior, Attitudes, or Appearance
    • Exaggerated emotional response that is obviously inappropriate to the situation
    • Depressed mood, lethargy, excessive fatigue
    • Hyperactivity or very rapid speech
    • Marked change in personal hygiene or dress
    • Noticeable weight loss or gain
    • Strange or bizarre behavior possibly indicating loss of contact with reality (Rambling thoughts, laughing to self, disorganized thinking, suspiciousness, or prolonged vacant staring)
  • Direct or Indirect References to Significant Distress, Suicide, or Homicide
    • Expressed thoughts of helplessness or hopelessness
    • References to suicide or violence (may appear in written assignments)
    • Isolation from friends or family

What You Can Do:


  • Talk to the student in private, when you both have time and are not rushed or distracted. 
  • Discuss your concerns with the student in behavioral, non-judgmental terms.
  • Be specific about the behavior you have witnessed that concerns you through utilizing “I” statements and offering support. 
  • Avoid judging, evaluating, & criticizing even if the student asks your opinion. It is important to respect the student’s value system, even if you disagree.
  • Refer the student to resources available to them. The best way is to offer to call or connect to a resource right in the moment. You could also share the resource and invite them to use it and say you’ll check in about it. 
  • Offer to have follow-up conversations with the student to continue to provide support while the student takes the appropriate actions.
  • If you have questions about how to support a student experiencing sexual misconduct, what resources are available to students, or the different ways that students can report any form of sexual misconduct, visit Sexual Misconduct Resources.


  • “Thanks for meeting with me. I wanted to meet because I am worried about you. I am concerned because of the change in your demeanor and participation in class. In the beginning you were very talkative and for the past two weeks, you have been silent and I noticed you falling asleep just yesterday. I want to help you succeed in this class. What can I do to help?” - Faculty
  • “You know I care about you and I am so glad we are friends which is why I wanted to bring this up. I am worried about you because you missed dinner with us the last 3 nights and over the weekend you slept most of it away.  Sleeping all the time and isolating feels different to me because you weren’t always taking naps and being alone and so it makes me scared that you are dealing with something difficult. I want you to know I’m here for you. Are you okay?” - Friend

Reminder to Report

Faculty and Staff are responsible employees and must notify the Title IX Coordinator or Deputy Coordinator of any reports of sexual or gender-based violence.


If you are unsure what to do with a specific student, reach out anytime to consult and figure out the best way to approach the situation. The conversation can remain private.