Distress often refers to emotions or feelings that interfere with a person’s daily functioning. In order to support students in distress, it is important to be able to recognize the warning signs. Distress can impact a student’s academics, work, body, emotions, and behaviours. Please see the chart below for examples of indicators of distress.
Common Indicators of Distress
Academic IndicatorsEmotional and Behavioural IndicatorsPhysical Indicators
Changes in quality of workExpression of hopelessness or despairChanges in personal hygiene
Increased absencesDisclosure of personal crisis (e.g., death of a family member or friend, housing, or food insecurity)Frequent or chronic illness
Low productivity or participationSelf-harming behavioursDisorganized, rapid, or slurred speech
Missed assignments/testsTearful or angry outburstsDramatic weight loss or gain
Concerning content in assignments/tests/discussions postsExcessive anxietySwollen or red eyes
Imminent Risk

An emergency is any reference to physical harm to oneself or others, violence, or weapons. If a student makes ANY reference to suicide or wanting to die, immediate action must be taken and the situation should be reported immediately. In the case of an emergency, call 911 immediately. State your concern to the student and let them know you are getting them help. Then notify the appropriate campus departments as needed.

During an emergency:

  • “I am worried about your safety; I need to get support for you.”

When noticing these warning signs in a student, it is important to think through the information observed or heard to determine the appropriate next steps.

Questions to reflect on:

  • Does what I am seeing concern me?
  • Does what I am hearing concern me?
  • Is this the first time I’ve felt concern for the student?


Guide: PDF Version