Recognize Indicators of Students in Distress

The existence of one or more of the following attributes may not indicate the presence of distress. Look for groups, frequency and severity of behaviors not just isolated symptoms or a change that deviates from their previous pattern of behavior.

Academic Signs

  • Bad or worsening grades
  • Lateness, absenteeism
  • Missed, late, or incomplete assignments
  • Lack of class participation
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Problems staying focused or paying attention

  Behavioral Signs

  • Withdrawal from classmates, peers and instructors
  • Not responding to emails, not participating in class discussions
  • Withdrawal from family, friends, and relationships
  • Difficulty concentrating, dazed
  • Agitation, restlessness
  • Increased irritability and aggressiveness
  • Mood swings
  • Statements of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Tearfulness, emotional outbursts
  • Frequent physical complaints
  • Sudden, abrupt changes in personality
  • Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Taking excessive risks, being reckless

  Physical Signs

  • Noticeable weight gain or loss
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Disheveled or worsening appearance, poor hygiene
  • Avoidance of eye contact
  • Dilated or constricted pupils
  • Sweaty or flushed skin
  • Absence of facial expression
  • Slow or rapid speech
  • Smelling of alcohol or marijuana

  Safety Risk

  • Signs to look out for when concerned that a person may be experiencing
    suicidal thoughts

    • Expressing a desire to kill themselves or to be dead
    • Expressing feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, or futility
    • Expressing feelings of alienation or isolation
    • Looking for a way to end their life

Respond to Students in Distress

There are many simple strategies to start the conversation with a student who may be struggling. After asking the student to meet privately and asking a few starter questions (where are they from, why did they pick Elon), we recommend the following 4-step conversation starter. (Use these tips to determine the most appropriate response for a distressed student.)

  1. Describe Your Observations:  Objectively describe the behaviors that you’ve noticed that lead you to be concerned:  “I’ve noticed that… [describe what you’ve noticed; examples: your not participating in some of the group discussions; you’ve missed a lot of class lately; you seem really tired; some of your classwork seems less organized than prior assignments; you’re getting angry with some of your classmates; you smelled of alcohol during class today]”.
  2. Share That You Are Concerned:  Express openly that you are concerned and why: “I’m a bit concerned because… [keep it broad; examples: this seems like a shift from what I’m used to; I know that you’re a capable person and want to do well in this class; I don’t want to see you burn any bridges with your classmates].”
  3. Ask For the Student’s Perspective:  Ask the student to provide context for your observations.  The assumption here is that you (as professor or staff) don’t have enough information to fully understand your observations and you’re looking to the student to provide the missing context.  You want to help, but you need more:  “What can you tell me about this?”, “Help me understand a bit about what’s going on.”, “Does this sound familiar to you?”
  4. Encourage Appropriate Connections: Ask the student what they are already doing for support.  Encourage other connections: “What are you doing to take care of yourself right now?“ “Are you connecting with some support here on campus?” “What can we be doing to help here?” “Where do we go from here?”  “What steps have you taken so far and how can I help?” Note: It’s helpful if you are aware of certain basic resources – Academic Advising Center, Learning Assistance, Student Care and Outreach, Counseling Services, Student Health Services, Disability Resources, Residence Life, Truitt Center. We are also a resource: “If it’s okay with you, I’d like to connect you with one of my friends over in the Student Care and Outreach staff. They are great at working with students who are dealing with some extra difficulties and have a lot of connections to work with. Can I connect you over email or share your information with them to get things started?”
  5. Establish a Follow-up Plan: In almost all cases, please plan to meet again with the student, simply to check in.  This does two things: it emphasizes that you really do care and it creates a subtle hint of accountability for some of the planning steps suggested:  “I’d like to get back together with you in a few days to see where things are.”


Follow the decision tree to determine who to contact when you are concerned about a student who is distressed and/or disruptive. Emergency and campus resources are listed below.

Emergency Resources Available 24/7

Immediate response to an emergency situation call 911
Campus Safety and Police call (336) 278-5555

Other Resources

Campus Safety and Police at  (336) 278-5555 for a welfare check
Crisis Counselor-on-Call at (336) 278-2222. (For assessment and recommendations from a mental health professional to help manage an urgent mental health crisis.)
National Suicide Prevention and Crisis Lifeline, 9-8-8. A national network of local crisis centers that provide free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
Crisis Text Line (Text START to 741741) to message a trained crisis counselor. (Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis)
TimelyCare’s TalkNow. To access mental health support for general or urgent needs

Traumatic Change in Relationships
  • Death of family member or close friend
  • Difficulties in marriage or close relationships
  • Problems at home with family or roommates
Concerns About Suicide
  • Expressing thoughts or feelings of taking their own life
  • Threatening to hurt or kill oneself or talking about wanting to hurt or kill oneself
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself by seeking access to firearms, available pills, or other means
  • Talking or writing about death, dying, or suicide when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person
  • Feelings of hopelessness, rage, anger, or revenge seeking
  • Feeling trapped, like there is no way out
  • Experiencing dramatic mood changes and
  • Seeing no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life
  • Engaging in behaviors that indicate risk to self or others
  • Acting recklessly or engaging in risky activities seemingly without thinking
  • Increasing alcohol or drug use
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
  • Appearing anxious, agitated, or unable to sleep, or sleeping all the time;
Mandatory Reporting

“Mandatory Reporters” are required to promptly report all known information about an incident of sexual harassment, interpersonal violence, sexual misconduct, and sex and/or gender-based discrimination to the university’s Title IX Coordinator. For more information, please refer to Title IX.