Signs that a Student May be in Distress

Behavioural Changes:

  • Repeated absences from class
  • Missed assignments
  • Missed appointments
  • Repeated requests for special accommodation (e.g., extensions on assignments)
  • Themes in creative works which reflect despair, hopelessness, isolation, violence, or rage
  • Disorganized or erratic performance
  • Direct statements indicating a personal or family problem

Physical Changes:

  • Unkempt appearance, with a lack of personal hygiene
  • Appearance of excessive fatigue, lack of sleep
  • Indications of substance abuse (e.g., smelling of alcohol or marijuana)

Personality Changes:

  • Sudden change in attitude (e.g., withdrawal, becoming unusually quiet, exhibiting times of unprovoked anger or hostility)
  • Anxiety
  • Ongoing expressions of sadness or tearfulness

Safety-risk Behaviours:

  • Appearing depressed or withdrawn
  • Expressions of despair, hopelessness, helplessness
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Self-injurious behaviours (e.g., cutting)
  • Threats against others
  • Poor impulse control
  • Any written note, artwork, or verbal statement which has a sense of finality or suicidality to it

Other Changes:

  • Bereavement (death of significant person) or loss (ending of relationship, failure in class)
  • Other students or peers expressing concern for the student
  • Your own sense that something is wrong

The presence of one indicator alone does not necessarily mean that the student is in distress. However, that is not always the case. It is always important to check on your concerns. That said, the more indicators that are present, the greater the likelihood that the student would benefit from a referral to a personal counsellor.


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