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Midshipmen Development Center

Tips for Recognizing in Distress

All of us at some time in our lives may have hard days, feel sad, depressed, and/or upset. However, significant distress experienced over a period of time may suggest a more serious problem. If you have any doubts that a fellow student is in significant distress, contact a chaplain, MDC, or your chain of command.

Students in distress may exhibit behaviors which do not disrupt others but may indicate something is wrong and that assistance is needed. Behaviors may include:

  1. Serious grade problems or a change from consistently passing grades to unaccountably poor performance. 
  2. Unusual or markedly changed patterns of interaction, i.e., avoidance of participation, excessive anxiety when called upon, , etc.
  3. Other characteristics that suggest the student is having trouble managing stress successfully e.g., a depressed, lethargic mood; very rapid speech; marked change in personal dress and hygiene.
  4. Behavior or speech suggestive of giving up or hopelessness; no longer trying, reduced participation in activities, talk of feeling "trapped" or devoid of hope.

Students in distress may exhibit behaviors that indicate significant emotional distress. They may also be reluctant or unable to acknowledge a need for personal help. Behaviors include:

  1. Repeated requests for special consideration, such as deadline extensions, especially if the student appears uncomfortable or highly emotional while disclosing the circumstances prompting the request:
  2. New or repeated behavior which pushes the limits of decorum and interferes with effective management of the immediate environment.
  3. Unusual or exaggerated emotional responses that are obviously inappropriate to the situation.

When responding to those who might be in need, keep in mind the following:

a. Acknowledge your observations, express concerns directly and honestly. Possible ways of doing this include the following: "I noticed you've been down lately. What's going on?" or "That sounded like a rough phone call. Anything I can do to help?" or "I couldn't help but notice that you were.... I'd love to listen if you feel like telling me what's up."

b. Listen to what is said, without labeling. judging, or minimizing. Don't be afraid to ask specifically about suicide.

c. Know your limitations- it's not your job to judge severity or to solve the person's problem. However, you should know where to get help and guide the person toward professionals who are available to respond to issues like this (MDC, BMU, Chaplains).

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