College students face a lot of stress that can impact their life, both personal and academic. Whether faculty, staff, administrator, family member, or friend this page has information to help you as you address your concerns about a UF student. On this page, you will find information about signs of distress, how to speak with a student in distress, referring to campus resources and following up. You will also be connected to tools and resources to help you help a distressed student.
Learn and Practice How to Help a Distressed Student through At-risk Kognito
At-risk Kognito is an online interactive simulation training and that uses role-play to help you learn key points in helping a distressed student. The training is free (through the CWC) and in only 30-45 At-risk Kognito allows you to practice assessing distress, talking to a student in distress, asking about suicide, and referring to services.
Signs of Excessive Distress
While fluctuations in mood, academic performance or interpersonal behavior are normal throughout college, it’s important to be aware of the signs of excessive distress and to not overlook them. Extreme or significant changes in behavior that persist weeks at a time or interfere with daily functioning are likely signs of excessive distress.
Here are some signs of excessive distress you can keep an eye out for, in academics, behavior, interpersonal relationships, and physical health.
- Uncharacteristically poor work
- Dropping grades
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty working in teams
- Increased difficulty completing tasks
- Excessive absences
- Increased anxiety around exams or deadlines
- Repeated requests for special consideration, e.g., deadline extensions, changes in requirements, grade changes
Changes in Behavior
- Changes in personal hygiene
- Changes in eating patterns
- Changes in sleep patterns and level of energy (taking longer to fall asleep, waking up tired, feeling lethargic)
- Increased generalized frustration, agitation and/or anger
- Inappropriate responses and/or disjointed thoughts
- Intense, dramatic, or volatile emotions
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- Physical harm to self
- Verbal or written references to distress, including suicidal/homicidal thoughts or plans
- Increased disorganization
- A greater sense of time pressure
- Certain social media communication
- Here’s a PDF from the JED Foundation with more info about potential warning signs that a friend might be in emotional distress.
- Difficulty getting along with others
- Isolation from family and friends
- Extreme defensiveness
- Amplified short-temper
- Increased frequency of headaches
- Recurring colds and minor illness
- Frequent muscle ache and/or tightness
- Persistent fatigue
In summary, extreme behaviors and significant changes in behavior indicate high levels of distress. If you notice behavior that is unlike the student you know, and if you feel concerned about the signs you observe, always trust your instinct and take action.
How to Respond to a student in distress
- Address the student in private: share your concern, identify your specific observations, communicate care.
- Make time to listen to the student and allow time to understand the scope of their concern.
- If you hear hopelessness, despair, any indicator of not wanting to live, recognize those feelings. Try saying something like: “I hear how hopeless you are about the future. It sounds like you feel depleted.” or ask if they are thinking about suicide. Read more about assisting a student with suicidal ideation.
- Avoid offering confidentiality to the student, you may need to get help from others.
- Consult with the Counseling and Wellness Center at 352-392-1575 and/or the Dean of Students Office at 352-392-1261 for assistance.
- Talk with your supervisor to develop a response
- Consider having someone meet with you and the student for additional support
- Deal directly with the behavior according to classroom protocol; provide corrective feedback and offer to help
- Follow up with the student and update your supervisor
- Encourage the student to use campus and community helping resources; offer to walk the student to assistance or call and make an appointment (Counseling and Wellness Center Radio Road at 352-392-1575 or the Crisis and Emergency Resource Center in Peabody Hall at 352-392-1576)
At UF, it is our shared responsibility to look out for one another and CWC is here to support you help a student in distress. We want to give you tools to help students in distress because you may be the first one to notice these signs and there are a lot of things you can do to help.
Thank you for being part of our caring campus community!