Distress Indicators | Student Affairs | Mississippi College
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Distress Indicators

The following distress indicators can be used to determine what kind of distress a student may be experiencing.

Academic Stress Indicators

Changes in academic performance and behavior are generally an indicator of stress among students.

Things to look for:

  • Changes in Cognitive Behavior
    • Forgetfulness
    • Unwanted or repetitive thoughts
    • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in Classroom Behavior
    • Increased tardiness- more often and/or longer period of tardiness
    • Increased organizational problems – doesn’t have text, notes, materials, etc.

    • Missed assignments/Not prepared for class

    • Unexcused absences

    • Changes in class participation, typically less engaged in discussion, etc.

    • Sleeping in class

    • Moves to an isolated seat/avoids social interaction before and during class

    • Changes in attire for class, generally more sloppy, less care in grooming

  • Changes in Interaction
    • Less likely to answer professors' emails
    • Expresses being overwhelmed by class requirements
    • Outbursts in class, or silent sullenness
    • Talks about dropping the class/changing majors
    • Doesn't ask questions, feels hopeless in class

Faith Indicators

Thresholds of a student coming to faith:

  • Trust a Christian: They learn that Christians can be trusted in the little things and the big things
  • Becoming curious: Curiosity about Christ and the Christian life
  • Opening to change: Counting the cost of the Christian life and following Jesus
  • Seeking after God: Choosing to figure out the Christian life and pursue Jesus
  • Entering the kingdom: Becoming a Christian and trusting God
  • Living in the kingdom: Finding a new life in Christ and needs the support of others

(Evert, Don & Doug Schaupp. I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught Us About Their Path to Jesus. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008.)

Stages that help determine where a student falls in relation to their distance/openness to Christ.

  • 0: Already a Christian or actively seeking God, open to Christians and the church, show up to Christian things regardless of the reason
  • 1: Churched but disillusioned, spiritually active yet not religious, asking spiritual questions, minimal engagement of Christianity 
  • 2: Indifferent to Christianity or silent, find religious conversations to be irrelevant and have a basic disregard 
  • 3: Skeptical of religious and spiritual things, negative examples to relate to, may or may not engage a Christians conversation if invited 
  • 4: Active in beliefs and ideas that are opposed to Christianity, negative attitude to Christians and the church

(Lutz, Stephen. College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture. Kansas City, MO. The House, 2011.)

Some indicators may point to deeper issues and a need for spiritual guidance, conversations, and or interventions. Such indicators include:

  • Walking away from faith communities: this may be the church, friend group, Tribe or Club, as well team mates, campus ministry, or mentors
  • Negativity: a shift in personality and response to happenings in the world, campus, church, personal sphere of influence, or personal world
  • Secrets: keeping things and holding onto secrets that are obvious may be covering up a deeper issue such as pornography, eating disorders, sexual matters, depression, or other things that ultimately are related to a spiritual issue
  • More self-focused: moving from a focus on other people to a focus of self can be an indicator that something has changed or shifted in the students worldview or perception 
  • Level of vulnerability: over or under sharing about significant aspects of life
  • Language: modifications in language such as vocabulary, illustrations, sarcasm, and tone 

Behavioral Indicators

The following behaviors are a guide for faculty regarding concerning, alarming and threatening behaviors in student.

Mental Health and College Students

  • Presenting problems in college and university counseling centers
    • Anxiety: 41.6%
    • Depression: 36.4%
    • Relationship Issues: 35.8%
    • Substance Misuse: 16.5%
    • Suicidal Ideation: 16.1%
    • Self Injury: 8.7%
  • Signs and symptoms of mental illness usually appear during young adulthood
  • 14% of college students have been treated for depression before entering college
  • 27% of adults between the ages of 18-24 have a diagnosable mental illness
  • 25% of college students take a psychotropic medicine 

Concerning Behaviors in Students

  • Students who are showing signs of emotional distress (“zoned-out” look, red eyes from crying, dilated or constricted pupils, disheveled appearance, noticeable weight gain or loss, sudden lack  of basic hygiene, wringing of hands, rocking back and forth, drastic changes in hair and/or clothing)
  • Lack of Personal Boundaries (standing too close, disclosing too much personal information, etc.)
  • Does Not Pick Up on Basic Social Cues (no eye contact, trouble maintaining conversation, etc.)
  • Unsolicited and/or Persistent Emails, Text Messages, or Facebook Messages 
  • Inappropriate Statements in Class (doesn’t follow topic or aggressive in nature) 

Alarming Behaviors in Students

  • Offensive or Threatening Emails, Text Messages, or Facebook Messages
  • Persistent Violations of Personal Space
  • Persistent Absences
  • Angry Outbursts (yelling, cursing, slamming doors, stomping, etc.)
  • Inappropriate Statements that Might be Aggressive in Content
  • Cut Marks or Scars (or long, non-weather-appropriate clothing to cover cuts or scars)
  • Alludes to the Possibility of  Harming Self or Others

Threatening Behaviors in Students

  • States an Intent or Desire to Harm Himself/Herself and/or Others
  • Attempts to Harm Himself/Herself and/or Others
  • Harms Himself/Herself and/or Others

For threatening behaviors in students, call Public Safety immediately: 601.925.3204.

What can I do?

  • Ask the Student if He/She is Okay (simple way to open a dialogue, or at least signal that you care)
  • Walk the Student to Student Counseling and Disability Services (4th Floor Alumni Hall)
  • Consult with Student Counseling and Disability Services (email – mbryant@mc.edu or call 601.925.7790)
  • Refer/Educate the Student about Counseling Services (most effective if concern has been conveyed)