At one time or another, everyone feels depressed or upset. But we can identify three general levels of distress which, when present over a period of time, suggest that the problems the normal person is dealing with are more than the "normal" ones.

Level 1 These behaviors, although not disruptive to others, may indicate that something is wrong and that help may be needed.

  • serious grade problems or a change from consistently good grades to poor performance;
  • excessive absences, especially if the student had previously demonstrated good, consistent class attendance;
  • unusual or markedly changed pattern of interaction, i.e., totally avoiding participation, becoming excessively anxious when called upon, dominating discussions, etc.;
  • other characteristics that suggest the student is having trouble managing stress successfully include a depressed, lethargic mood; being excessively active and talkative (very rapid speech); swollen, red eyes; marked change in personal dress and hygiene; sweaty (when room is not hot); and falling asleep inappropriately.

Level 2 These behaviors may indicate significant emotional distress, but also a reluctance or inability to acknowledge a need for more personal help:

  • repeated requests for special consideration, such as deadline extensions, especially if the student appears uncomfortable or highly emotional disclosing the circumstances prompting the request;
  • new or regularly occurring behavior which pushes the limits of decorum and which interferes with the effective management of the immediate environment;
  • unusual or exaggerated emotional response which is obviously inappropriate to the situation

Level 3 These behaviors usually show a student is in obvious crisis and needs emergency care:

  • highly disruptive (hostile, aggressive, violent, etc.)
  • inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech, unconnected or disjointed thoughts);
  • loss of contact with realty (seeing/hearing things which "aren't there," beliefs or actions greatly at odds with reality or probability);
  • overtly suicidal thoughts (referring to suicide as a current option);
  • homicidal threats.

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