Recognizing signs of distress

Recognize It

Recognizing signs of distress

These are the most common signs of distress. Students may present with signs that are not listed.



Sudden decline in quality of work and grades

Repeated absences

Frequently missed assignments

Bizarre or disturbing content in writings or presentations

Disorganized or concerning performance or assignments dominated by themes of extreme hopelessness, helplessness, isolation, rage, despair, violence, or self-harm

Continual seeking of special provisions

Doesn't respond to repeated requests for contact or meetings

Ranting or threatening emails

You find yourself doing more personal, rather than academic or career, advising during office hours



Marked changes in physical appearance including deterioration in grooming, hygiene, or sudden weight loss/gain

Excessive fatigue/sleep disturbance

Intoxication, hangover, or smelling of alcohol or marijuana

Strange or bizarre behavior indicating loss of contact with reality

Depressed or lethargic mood or functioning

Noticeable cuts, bruises, or burns

Depressed or lethargic functioning


Self-disclosure of personal distress, family problems, financial difficulties, contemplating suicide, grief

Excessive tearfulness, panic reactions, irritability, or unusual apathy

Verbal abuse such as taunting, badgering, intimidation 

Expression of concern about the student by their peers

Safety Risk

Unprovoked anger or hostility

Implying or making a direct threat to harm self or others

Academic assignments dominated by themes of extreme hopelessness, rage, worthlessness, isolation, despair, acting out, suicidal ideations/violent behaviors - a "cry for help"

Communicating threats via email, correspondence, texting, or phone calls


Responding to a student in distress

  • Stay safe: If there is an imminent danger to you, the student or someone else, call UCCS Police at 719-255-3111.
  • Take your time: If this is not an imminently dangerous situation, take time to listen to the student's concerns and how you might be able to help.
  • Stay calm: Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself. Use a calm voice when talking and asking questions.
  • Use active listening: Make eye contact, give your full attention. Restate what the student says to make sure you understand what is causing the distress and/or what they are asking for help with. 
  • Ask direct questions: Don't be afraid to directly ask the student if they are having thoughts of harming themselves or others. By asking you are not instilling the thought. 
  • Refer: Connect the student with the appropriate campus resource(s) for additional support.

For more strategies on how to respond to specific behaviors or experiences, visit the Strategies to Assist Students page.