What are some signs of distress in students and what can a faculty member do to help? (1)

According to the 2015 OSU Wellness Assessment Report, approximately 30 % of students reported some difficulty managing daily stress (2).

As a faculty member or a TA at OSU, you are in a unique and critical position to identify and get the student to the potentially life-saving help the student needs.

What are some possible signs of distress in students?

Possible signs of distress can be categorized into a student’s Appearance, Behavior, or Comments (ABC’s):

Concerning Appearance:

• Depressed or lethargic mood

• Marked change in personal hygiene

• Dramatic weight loss or gain

Concerning Behavior:

• Excessive absence or tardiness

• Trouble eating and/or sleeping

• Disruptive behavior

• Undue aggressiveness

• Exaggerated or out of proportion emotional reaction

• Dependency (individual hangs around or makes excessive appointments to see you)

• Excessive confusion

• Hyperactivity or very rapid speech

• Behavior indicating loss of contact with reality

Concerning Comments:

• References to suicide, homicide or assault

• Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness

• Isolation from friends, family or classmates

• Giving away prized possessions

• Preparing for death by making a will and final arrangements

What should you do if you suspect a student in distress?

These are the critical and potentially life-saving steps that you can take.

1. SPEAK with the student privately.

In a non-judgmental way, express your concern for the student and willingness to help.

Be mindful of cultural norms.

2. LISTEN carefully to what he/she is troubled about; and help him/her explore options.

3. SUPPORT the student in the moment.

a. Share with the student that help is available and point out

b. Point out that that seeking help is a sign of strength and courage, rather than of weakness or failure.

4. SUGGEST resources; while honoring your own limits and boundaries. Document the interaction as appropriate.

5. AVOID making judgmental or critical comments, or promises of confidentiality.

What are some resources for distressed students?

In a crisis situation, call University Police at 911.

To consult regarding a student:

  • Call Counseling and Consultation Service at 614-292-5766. Refer to ccs.osu.edu.
  • Student Conduct: studentconduct.osu.edu

To consult regarding a faculty or staff member:

  • Call Ohio State Employee Assistance Program: 800-678-6265 (or visit osuhealthplan.com/OhioStateEAP)
  • Office of Human Resources, Employee and Labor Relations: hr.osu.edu/elr
  • Ohio State Department of Public Safety: ps.ohio-state.edu

Don’t ignore signs of distress in a student. With the above steps you can help a student and prevent further harm from occurring.

By R. Ryan S Patel, DO FAPA, OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Dr. Patel is a psychiatrist treating OSU students and their families using counseling, medications and healthy lifestyle habits at OSU’s Counseling and Consultation Service. He is also author of the blog: u.osu.edu/emotionalfitness


1. This article was adapted from the Ohio State Office of Academic Affairs’ Guide to disrupted or distressed students, 2014.

2. Wellness Assessment: Emotional Wellness, Center for the Study of Student Life, July 2015.