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