Signs of distress

Concerned about someone’s well being? Review these common signs of distress.

Signs of distress indicate someone is having difficulty and may need help. While a single sign in isolation may not be cause for concern, a pattern of behaviour or escalation in intensity of that behaviour is significant.

Here are some signs of distress:

Signs of distress


  • Experience of abuse or trauma
  • Ending of relationships
  • Loss
  • Legal/financial problems


  • Emotional outbursts
  • Withdrawal – from relationships, work, hobbies, interests
  • Frequent conflict
  • Self-harm
  • Deterioration of academic performance/participation in class
  • Frequent absences/incomplete assignments
  • Recklessness/impulsiveness
  • Drug/alcohol abuse
  • Extreme behavioural changes
  • Rapid, incoherent speech
  • Paranoia
  • Extreme agitation (pacing, clenched teeth, jaws, fists)

Physical appearance

  • Rapid weight loss/gain
  • Lack of attention to physical appearance (particularly if a change from “normal”)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Listlessness/lack of energy
  • Frequent/sudden illness
  • Excessive dieting
  • Binge eating
  • Induced vomiting
  • Chronic nausea, headaches

Emotional behaviour

  • Sadness
  • Apathy
  • Anger/irritability
  • Shame/guilt
  • Loneliness/isolation
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Despair

If you’re in doubt, it’s best to take action. Reach out to the person in question, contact a counselor or the Distress Centre to discuss your concerns, or, in  case  of emergency, contact campus security or call 911. Learn more about assessing a situation.