Tips for Recognizing Students in Distress

The CARE Team encourages you to use the Kognito At Risk software. In this 45-minute simulation, college employees and students learn the indicators of psychological distress and how best to approach an at-risk student for referral to the CARE Team.

In addition to the Kognito At Risk software software program, the following information may be helpful. The D Scale is one way to measure and assess mental health related risks.


A student in distress is characterized by the following traits:

  • Emotionally troubled (e.g. depressed, agitated, unstable) Individuals impacted by actual/perceived situational stressors and traumatic events.

You may observe these behaviors:

  • Changes in academic performance in the classroom
  • Significant changes in test scores
  • Changes in pattern of interaction
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Problems concentrating and remembering things or making decisions


You may observe these behaviors:

  • Repeating requests for special consideration
  • New or regularly occurring behavior which interferes with class management or is disruptive to other students or college employees
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional responses (venting, screaming, swearing)
  • Persistent sadness or unexplained crying
  • High levels of irritability or inappropriate excitement
  • Destructive, harmful or threatening behaviors or attitudes toward others
  • Any substance misuse or abuse


You may observe these behaviors:

  • Statements related to death or dying or feelings of hopelessness
  • Threats of harming self or others
  • Highly disturbed behavior
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Inability to communicate easily
  • Irrational conversation or speech that seems disconnected
  • Loss of contact with reality such as seeing or hearing things that are not there, or beliefs or actions at odds with reality
  • Suspiciousness or irrational feelings of persecution
  • Intimidation through verbal or nonverbal threatening behavior
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