Faculty Spotlight: Students in Distress: Recognizing the Signs

Students show signs of distress in many different ways. Some common indicators of distress include:

Signs of Distress

Faculty and staff may feel concerned about students who exhibit any of these common signs of distress. Current research further suggests that students from different cultures may show other signs of distress. Among undergraduates at Seattle Pacific University, 34% are students of color and students come from 43 states and 17 countries. It is important for faculty and staff to be familiar with signs of distress among other cultures, in order to be able to help students who come from different backgrounds.

Some subtle signs of distress that may be demonstrated more often by students of color or students from marginalized groups include:

  • Somatization: Some individuals express distress through reporting physical symptoms rather than emotional symptoms; this may be particularly prevalent among cultures that emphasize a strong mind-body connection. Common somatic symptoms that may be reported are aches and pains, fatigue, and weakness.
  • Sleep Disturbance: Problems with sleep can be indicative of mental health problems and can exacerbate distress. Distress may be demonstrated through reporting difficulties with falling asleep, insomnia, or sleeping too much. Sleep disturbance can also impair students’ ability to stay alert and focus during class.
  • Fainting: Dizziness, fainting, or collapsing is typically thought to indicate a medical problem. However, in some cultures, fainting may be related to mental health problems and distress.

It’s important to remember that each student is unique and may show signs of distress that are congruent with their culture or in another way. If you notice that a student may be showing signs of distress, talk to them to provide support and determine if more services are needed. More on talking with students can be found here.