The Blue Folder: Indicators of Distress

Use the following descriptions to help you identify a student in distress. Look for groupings, frequency, duration, and severity. Pay particular attention to notable changes in the student’s behavior, performance, mood, and appearance. Any one of the following indicators alone does not necessarily suggest the student is experiencing distress. Together, however, they may indicate the student needs or may be asking for help.

Safety Risk

​​Immediately call Public Safety for consult if you become aware of:

  • Unprovoked anger or hostility
  • Physical violence (e.g., shoving, grabbing, assault, use of weapons)
  • Implying or making direct threat(s) to harm self or others
  • Academic assignments dominated by themes of extreme hopelessness, rage, worthlessness, isolation, despair, acting out, suicidal ideations/violent behaviors
  • Stalking or harassing
  • Communicating threats
  • Damaging property or other destructive acts

Behavioral Concerns

  • Openly talking about “not being around” or death (eg., “What’s the difference? I won’t be here anymore for finals.”)
  • Directly or indirectly communicating suicidal thoughts (eg. “I don’t ever want to wake up again.” “Everyone would be better off if I just died.”) 
  • Marked changes in physical appearance (e.g., grooming or hygiene deterioration, weight loss/gain)
  • Reckless, risky, or impulsive behavior
  • Falls asleep in class
  • Disoriented
  • Behavior seems out of context or concerning
  • Signs of delusions and paranoia
  • Reports of guilt, worthlessness, flattening of emotional expression, or indifference
  • Self-disclosure about personal distress (e.g., family or financial problems, grief, suicidal thoughts)
  • Unusual/disproportionate emotional response to events
  • Excessive tearfulness or panic reactions
  • Irritability or unusual apathy
  • Verbal abuse (e.g., taunting, badgering, intimidation)
  • Concern from peers
  • Helplessness, hopelessness or despair
  • Signs of possible self-injury (cuts, burns, bruises)

Academic Impact

  • Sudden decline in quality of work and grades
  • Repeated absences
  • Disorganized performance
  • Multiple requests for extensions
  • Overly demanding of faculty’s or staff’s time and attention
  • Requests for support from faculty or staff that are of a personal (vs. academic) nature

Recognize and Respond to Suicide Risk

The simplest and best advice is to take any concerns about suicide or self-harm seriously, and connect the student to professional help. While no single formula can determine if someone is simply sad, “down,” or is severely depressed or at risk for suicide, these and similar behavioral red flags may indicate a student needs professional assistance.