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What to Look For in a Student in Distress

It may be difficult to know what exactly to look for when dealing with a student who may be in distress. While there is no formula for determining if a student is at risk, there are many signs and symptoms that may indicate that a student is experiencing difficulty. If, after reviewing these possible signs, you have concerns about a student, please direct him or her to the Counseling Center to schedule an appointment. You may also contact us directly at (215) 895-1415 if you have questions about how to proceed.

Some Signs and Symptoms of a Student in Distress

  • Excessive procrastination and poorly prepared work, especially if this is inconsistent with previous work.
  • Infrequent class attendance with little or no work completed.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Listlessness, lack of energy, or frequent falling asleep in class.
  • Marked changes in mood or personality.
  • Marked changes in personal hygiene.
  • Repeated requests for special consideration, e.g., deadline extensions.
  • Impaired speech or garbled, disjointed thoughts.
  • Behavior which regularly interferes with the decorum or effective management of your class.
  • Overtly suicidal thoughts, e.g., referring to suicide as an option.
  • High levels of irritability, unruly, or abrasive behavior.
  • Inability to make decisions despite your repeated attempts to clarify and to encourage.
  • Dramatic weight loss or weight gain.
  • Bizarre or strange behavior.
  • Normal emotions that are displayed to an extreme degree or for a prolonged period of time, e.g., fearfulness, tearfulness, or nervousness.

Some Warning Signs of Substance Abuse

If you think a student might have a substance abuse problem there may be some behaviors or symptoms that are easily observable and could indicate the presence of a problem. The following signs and symptoms might indicate that someone has or is at risk for having a problem with drugs or alcohol:

  • You have heard reports or seen the student drinking excessively.
  • The student has been involved in disciplinary actions as a result of alcohol or drug intoxication.
  • The student's grades have suffered because of excess substance use.
  • The student has been involved in accidents in which alcohol is involved.
  • The student misses classes or appointments because s/he is hung over.
  • The student is having difficulties in relationships with peers because of his or her excessive use of alcohol or drugs.
  • The student has been involved in sexual activity he or she later regrets.
  • The student has had erratic emotional outbursts.
  • The student has 'black outs'.
  • The student is unable to modify his or her drinking or drug use.
  • The student has experienced weight loss, medical difficulties, or is exhibiting poor hygiene.

If students show any of these signs it might be indicative of a problem. You might suggest that they speak with someone at the Counseling Center to address some of their concerns, or perhaps to take a look at the role that drugs and alcohol play in their lives.