Characteristics of Distressed Students

Help a student

It is not unusual for a person to feel depressed, confused, or upset at various times throughout life. When these feelings persist, however, it is an indication that the person may be experiencing problems that are more distressing than typical frustrations. Below are three levels of student behavior, each of which suggests that a student would benefit from some kind of intervention.

When you encounter students who are experiencing Level 1 or 2 distress, you have several options:

  • You may decide not to address the problem behavior in any way;
  • You may limit your response to classroom/coursework problems; or
  • You may choose to approach the student on a personal level.

If you encounter a student exhibiting Level 3 distress behavior, call the appropriate agency (make sure someone is with the student while calls are being made).

Level One

These behaviors may not be troublesome to others, but they may signal that the student is upset about something:

  • Extremely poor academic performance, or a change from high to low grades.
  • Excessive absences, especially if prior class attendance was good.
  • Unusual or noticeably changed interaction patterns in the classroom.
  • Depressed or apathetic mood, excessive activity or talkativeness, crying, noticeable change in appearance and hygiene, alcohol on the breath.
  • Missed tests, or inability to remain awake in class

Level Two

These behaviors may signify a high amount of emotional distress that needs to be addressed on a personal, as well as, academic level:

  • Repeated attempts to obtain deadline extensions or postpone tests.
  • New or continuous behavior which disrupts your class or student interactions.
  • Inappropriate or exaggerated emotional reactions to situations, including a lack of emotional response to stressful events.

Level Three

These behaviors usually indicate that a student is in crisis and needs emergency care:

  • Violent or other extremely disruptive behavior (hostile threats, assault)
  • Obvious loss of contact with reality (seeing/hearing/feeling things not apparent to others, thoughts or behavior inconsistent with reality)
  • Disturbed speech or communication content (incoherent speech, grandiose beliefs, disorganized or rambling thoughts)
  • Suicidal or other self-destructive thoughts or actions (any reference to suicide as a current possibility)
  • Homicidal threats

Level 3 behaviors are the most obvious and the easiest for you to address because there are specific guidelines to follow when you encounter a student in crisis:

  • Remain calm
  • Call the appropriate agency (make sure someone is with the student while calls are being made)
  • Stay with the student until help arrives.