Recognizing a Student in Distress

QuadStudents can experience a crisis if stress exceeds their coping resources. Most crises can be resolved successfully within a few weeks. However, due to the trauma caused by sexual assault, the recovery process may be longer and more involved. Some crises escalate and may place affected individuals in precarious, or even dangerous, situations. Developing strong support networks is an essential step for a student who may be in crisis. Faculty and staff can assist students by providing referrals and support while students recover from trauma. The following information may provide you with guidance in recognizing and helping a student in distress.

These are general indicators that a student may be having difficulty coping with trauma such as sexual assault.

Expressions of Concern About a Student by Other Students

Marked Changes in Academic Performance

  • Excessive class absences or tardiness
  • Avoidance of classroom participation
  • Inappropriate disruption or monopolization of class time
  • Significant deterioration in quality of work
  • Frequent requests for special considerations, especially when this represents a change from previous functioning
  • Consistently missed appointments and assignments

Unusual Behavior, Attitudes, or Appearance

  • Depressed mood, lethargy, excessive fatigue
  • Hyperactivity, very rapid speech, grandiosity
  • Unprovoked irritability, angry outbursts, any form of physical aggression or violence
  • Unexplained crying
  • Visible anxiety, marked negativity, or obsessive thoughts
  • Marked change in personal hygiene or dress
  • Noticeable weight loss or gain
  • Strange or bizarre behavior possibly indicating loss of contact with reality. (Rambling thoughts, laughing to self, disorganized thinking, suspiciousness, or prolonged vacant staring.)

Direct or Indirect References to Significant Distress, Suicide, or Homicide

  • Expressed thoughts of helplessness or hopelessness
  • Comments suggesting family problems or marked isolation from family or friends
  • Reference to "voices" telling the student what to do
  • Overt or indirect references to suicide (may appear in written assignments)
  • Sharing of homicidal threats

What You Can Do

  • Learn how to support someone affected by sexual or gender violence.
  • You can discuss your concerns with the student and listen for the response. Talking about a problem or labeling a crisis does not make it worse. It is the first step toward resolving it.
  • If you have questions about how to support a student, what resources are available to students, or the different ways that students can report any form of sexual misconduct, please contact Benje Douglas at 207-721-5189 or
  • You can call the Counseling Center at 207-725-3145 for a consultation about the student. The staff will be glad to talk with you about any worries or concerns you may have.
  • You can call the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs at 207-725-3149 to make them aware of your concern.
  • You can contact Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine (SASSMM) at 1-207-725-2181 or 1-800-822-5999. They also have a 24-hour confidential hotline at 1-800-871-7741.
  • You can contact Family Crisis Services at 866-834-4357

Things to Consider

  • It is acceptable to stay "in role" as a faculty/staff member. Refer the students to the resources that are in place to help.
  • Remember, if you encounter a student who has been sexually assaulted, it is ultimately up to them to decide how to heal. Being supportive and suggesting options will empower the student by allowing them to regain control over their life.