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Recognizing Distress

Everyone can feel distressed or upset at one time or another. The following lists warning signs which, when present over a period of time, suggest a more significant level of distress. We suggest that you do not focus on one item or a specific set of items, instead if you observe these behaviors in an individual and it is concerning to you, refer the incident/individual to the CARE Team for follow up and assessment.

Marked Change in Academic/Work Performance or Behavior

  • Change in classroom/work performance such as a drop in grades or productivity
  • Deterioration in quality of work and preparation
  • Excessive or repeated absences or tardiness
  • Missed or late assignments or appointments
  • Erratic or disorganized participation or performance
  • Avoiding participation or excessively anxious when called upon in class or meetings
  • Dominating discussions
  • Disruptive behavior during class or meetings

Unusual or Dramatic Shifts in Behavior or Appearance

  • Dramatic change in energy level, positive or negative
  • Dramatic changes in weight, lost or gained
  • Persistent sadness and/or frequent tearfulness
  • Lethargic, falling asleep in class or at their desk
  • Hyperactivity, very rapid speech, or inflated sense of self
  • Exaggerated emotional response that is obviously inappropriate to the situation
  • Deterioration in personal hygiene or dress
  • Strange or bizarre behavior indicating loss of contact with reality
  • Incoherent speech or writing
  • Inability to focus their eyes when having a conversation
  • Obvious alcohol or drug abuse or intoxication
  • Noticeable cuts, bruises or bandages
  • Excessive dependency on you or other individuals
  • Social isolation from friends, family and/or classmates or roommates

Interpersonal Behavior

  • Lacks social connections or friends
  • Exhibits social withdrawal and/or isolation
  • Is frequently angry, exhibits loss of temper on a daily basis
  • Is verbally hostile, combative or abusive
  • Fails to acknowledge or consider the feelings or thoughts of others
  • Consistently shows lack of respect for the property of others
  • Demonstrates intolerance for differences and/or prejudicial attitudes
  • Expresses frequent feelings of rejection or being alone
  • Reports having been previously victimized or bullied
  • Reports being currently picked on or persecuted

Reported Life Stressors

  • Problems with roommates, family, or romantic partners
  • Disruption in their support system(s)
  • Experiencing the death of a significant other (including a pet)
  • Experiencing a physical or sexual assault
  • Experiencing discrimination based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or disabilities
  • Experiencing legal difficulties
  • Any problem or situation, whether real or imagined, that is experienced as a loss, disappointment, failure, humiliation, or other stressor (job, finances, housing, relationships, etc.)

References to Suicide, Homicide or Death

  • Essays or projects that express themes of hopelessness, isolation, rage or despair
  • Expressed feelings of helplessness or inability to cope
  • Verbal or written references to, or threats of, suicide
  • Verbal or written references to, or threats of, destructive or assaultive behavior or homicide

Other Behavior

  • Expresses frustration in inappropriate ways
  • Acts impulsively, often without considering consequences
  • Shows Increased risk-taking
  • Is fascinated with weapons (guns, knives, etc.) and/or death
  • Is involved in physical fights, pushing or shoving
  • Commits acts of vandalism or destruction of property
  • Expresses violence or themes of violence in writings or drawings
  • Verbalizes threats of violence or plans for hurting people or causing damage to property
  • Has a history of discipline problems or frequent run-ins with authority
  • Has a history of violent and/or aggressive behavior

This information adapted from resources of CSU Long Beach CARES, and Cal Poly Pomona: PolyCares. Thank you for collaboration as a CSU system to help protect our students.


The CARE Team is not tasked with responding to emergencies. If this is an emergency and you are in need of immediate assistance contact CSUSB Police (909) 537-5165 or dial 911.