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Signs of Distress and How to Respond

It’s a common developmental experience for students to experience changes in their behaviors, moods, values and behaviors during their college years. Some of these changes may be developmentally appropriate, and not necessarily signs that a student is having a psychological problem. Some behaviors, however, may indicate that a student is in distress. You may want to take action if you notice some of the following behaviors in your student:

  • Poor academic performance, especially if a change from past academic performance
  • Missing classes
  • Routinely handing in assignments late, or not at all
  • Ongoing confusion or stress about choosing a major
  • Preoccupation with good grades, to the point of causing anxiety, social issues, sleep issues, ongoing unhappiness or fear about the future
  • Moods that seem extreme or that change a lot; inappropriate displays of emotions
  • Anxiety, constant worry, fears, or preoccupations
  • Excessive crying
  • Fatigue, lack of interest in activities, lack of energy
  • Noticeable changes in personal hygiene
  • Preoccupation with food or body image
  • Impaired speech or disjointed, confused thoughts; bizarre behaviors
  • Aggressive or threatening behavior
  • Dramatic weight loss or gain
  • References to suicide (either overt or vague, such as “sometimes I think about not being here”)
  • Statements about hopelessness or helplessness
  • Pessimism about the future
  • Difficulties in romantic relationships, such as prolonged grief over a break-up or a preoccupation with a certain individual
  • Problems getting along with others, such as friends or roommates
  • Avoiding social activities, or not making friends / social connections at school
  • “Hiding out” in dorm room
  • Avoiding cafeteria or other places where there are a large number of people