Recognizing Students in Distress

How to Identify & Respond

SHU students have many challenges to deal with during their college experience. In addition to academic stress, there may be other stressors such as being away from home, developing new relationships, handling the responsibilities of independent living, making decisions about a major, and career planning.

Stressors often manifest as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, alcohol and other drug abuse, and poor academic performance. Early identification of such issues can be an important factor in keeping our students safe while helping them reach their full potential.

Faculty, staff and administrators are in an excellent position to recognize students having difficulty and are often the first to initiate help for students in distress.

Key Points

  • As Faculty and Staff, you are in the unique position of being the first to see concerning changes in students
  • It is important that you are aware of/recognize certain indicators that your student may be in distress
  • Don’t panic! The sooner a student is directed to help, the better the situation will become
  • Normalize. Remember, everyone goes through difficulties from time to time
  • REMEMBER:
    • Express compassion and your concern
    • Say what you see
    • Bringing concerns up WON’T give students any harmful ideas
    • It WILL help them realize people care

Interpersonal Indicators

  • Excessive self-disclosures
  • Isolation/withdrawal
  • Unusual/disproportionate emotional responses to events
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Verbally or physically abusive
  • Expressions of concerns about student by peers or other faculty/staff
  • Loss of pleasure/interests
  • Major shifts in mood
  • Recent major stressor (loss of loved one, break-up, academic probation, etc.)

Academic Indicators

  • Repeated absences
  • Decline in quality of work/grades
  • Disorganized thinking present in presentations, questions, or assignments
  • Repeated requests for extensions
  • Conduct that interferes with classroom engagement

Physical Indicators

  • Marked changes in physical appearance/hygiene
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Disoriented / ”Out of It”
  • Rambling/tangential speech
  • Odd / Erratic behaviors
  • Strange beliefs/paranoia
  • Intoxication (smelling of alcohol/drugs)

Crisis Indicators

  • Anger/hostility with little provocation
  • Direct harm to self or others
  • Statements of suicide, homicide, hopelessness, rage, despair
  • Stalking/harassing others
  • Communicating threats via e-mail, papers, or other correspondence

What can I Do?

  • If you are concerned for anyone’s immediate safety, including your own, call Public Safety at 203-371-7911 or 911
  • If you DON’T feel there is immediate danger:
    • Provide appropriate referrals or resources to the student OR
      • Consult a supervisor
      • Consult with a counselor at the Counseling Center (after the incident)
    • Help student identify personal supports in their life
    • Normalize getting help –many students do so with great success
      • Walk a student over to appropriate resource if you feel uncomfortable letting the student be by themselves
    • Keep a written summary of all contact with student and all others who may be involved with this issue
    • Complete a report to the Student Care Team
    • Remember, your self-care is also important!

Download the Big Red Card for more Information