Signs of Distress

Trust Your Observations

What are the signs of a Student in Distress?

As a member of the Marshall University community, you may notice a student exhibiting one or more of the academic, physical or emotional signs and decide that something is clearly wrong. Or you may have a “gut-level feeling” that something is wrong. If the latter is the case, do not dismiss your feelings or feel that you need to wait for tangible “proof” that a problem exists. A simple check-in with the student may help you get a better sense of his/her situation.

All of us experience problems and usually it takes only a short time to recover and develop a more positive attitude and the ability to cope with whatever situation has presented itself. Sometimes however, the problem persists, and we begin to see signs of ongoing distress and poor coping. These signs in general may include, but are not limited to, the following:

Academic Signs

  • Deterioration in quality/quantity of work
  • Excessive procrastination
  • Repeated absences from class or from research lab coupled with other signs of distress
  • Disorganized or erratic performance or behavior
  • Student sends frequent, lengthy, “ranting” or threatening types of emails to professor/TA

Physical Signs

  • A dramatic change in energy level (either direction)
  • Excessive weight gain or loss
  • Worrisome changes in hygiene or personal appearance
  • Frequent state of alcohol intoxication (i.e., bleary-eyed, hung-over, smelling of alcohol)
  • Noticeable cuts, bruises or burns on student
  • Impaired speech or disjointed thoughts

Social Signs

  • Withdrawal and isolative behavior
  • Strange or bizarrely inappropriate behavior
  • Inappropriate dependency

Emotional Signs

  • Inappropriate emotional outbursts (unprovoked anger or hostility, sobbing)
  • Exaggerated personality traits; more withdrawn or more animated than usual
  • Unstable mood, including depression, irritability, anxiety, tearfulness
  • Focus on suicide or harmful behaviors
  • Expressions of hopelessness, fear or worthlessness.
  • Direct statements indicating distress
  • Peer concern about a fellow student (in class, lab, residence hall, club)

These behaviors may be related to ongoing depression or anxiety and may be due to problems in relationships, past trauma, addictions, eating disorders, grief and loss, etc.

It is possible that any one of these signs, in and of itself, may simply mean that a student is having an “off” day. Please note, any one serious sign (e.g., a student writes a paper expressing hopelessness and/or thoughts of suicide) or a cluster of smaller signs (e.g., emotional outbursts, repeated absence, a noticeable cut on the arm) necessitates an intervention. If you are not sure if a student’s behavior calls for a BIT referral, please contact the Office of Student Conduct at 304-696-2495 to discuss your concerns.

NOTE: In cases where a student’s behavior poses an imminent threat to you or another, contact the University Police immediately at 304-696-HELP (4357).