N.B: This article is focusing on the distressed student. However, it can be helpful in all spheres of life such as at home, work places and social life. Please read through.

We all face stress in our lives. Stress can be positive sometimes, however, it can be debilitating when it is a lot. Students are usually under a lot of pressure with both their academic and personal lives. While students have found different ways to cope with the system, sometimes it can become too much and thereafter lead to distress or even depression.

Emotional distress can be explained as a state of mental anguish which may result from a certain circumstance or mental health issue. The staff of a school have the better opportunity to notice when a student is distressed and that includes the school counsellor and fellow students too. This is because, they get to interact with them throughout the day. It is crucial for all school staff members to be familiar with, and watchful for, risk factors and warning signs of suicidal behavior. The entire school staff should work to create an environment where students feel safe sharing such information. 

Sometimes, students who are distressed may be perceived as simply ‘naughty’, or ‘bad’ by teachers and peers. This perception may in turn damage their self-esteem and make them feel shunned by those around them. It is thus important that teachers and school counsellors be on the look-out for any indications of stress or depression.

There are several matters that could cause distress to a student, including (but not limited to):

• Broken relationships/family

• Loss of a family member/friend

• Illness of a loved one

• Conflict with family or a close person

• Victim of assault

• Sudden change i.e. moving to another town/school

• Traumatic experience example rape, war, accident, floods etc

• Mental health condition

When one is faced with such difficult situations, there might be some changes in the person. The following are some of the indications of a student who is struggling.

  • Unusual Behaviour:

 • Falling asleep in class frequently

• Threatening or disruptive behavior in classroom  

• Marked changes in appearance, example hygiene and weight

• Extreme mood swings or inappropriate, excessive display of emotion

• Sudden withdrawal from others or excessive sleep

• Chronic irritability, excessive anxiety or hyperactivity

• Confusion, bizarre behaviour or disorientation

· Unusual bruises or cuts on hands or body

· Sadness, tearfulness

· Extreme loss of appetite or binge eating frequently

· Dependency, i.e. the student keeps making appointments to see you

· Lack of energy and enthusiasm about various aspects of student life

• Preoccupation with death

  • Problems with Academic Performance:

• Poor academic performance or a sudden decline in performance from previous tests.

• Request for special accommodations

• Speech or test anxiety

• Not attending classes or not doing assignments

  • Harmful Statements or Behaviours:

• Uses statements of helplessness or mentions about suicidal thoughts

• Indications of prolonged unhappiness

• Extreme risk-taking behavior

• Use of drugs or alcohol

• Getting violent or aggressive with classmates or other students

In addition to the above mentioned signs, if a student is suicidal, they show other clues of their struggle:

  • Verbal cues: a student may directly or indirectly communicate their suicidal thoughts (sometimes even using jokes) or intentions by saying things like:

· “I’m going to kill myself.”

· “Everyone would be better off without me.”

· “I just can’t take it any longer.”

· “I wish I were dead.”

“I am tired of this life.”

  • Behavioral Clues: a student may do something that may reveal self-destructive intentions, like:

· A previous suicide attempt, especially if recent

· Giving away valued possessions

· Procuring means: asking for sedatives or buying a gun

· Composing a suicide note

·  Resigning from social groups, extracurricular activities,  

· Crying spells without external triggers

· Visiting a physician for unexplained or vague symptoms

· Substance abuse

Youth who feel suicidal are not likely to seek help directly; however, parents, school staff, and peers can recognize the warning signs and take immediate action to ensure the student’s safety. According to Worthington (1982), the most crucial step in assisting another person, is make them believe that you understand them. This can be achieved by asking the right questions, listening attentively to their concerns and evaluating the person’s needs. When a youth gives signs that they may be considering suicide, the following actions should be taken:

• Remain calm: To be of greater assistance and to reduce the student’s agitation one needs to stay calm.

• Provide a quiet, private place (if possible) for the student to rest in the mean time

• Talk to the student clearly and in a straight forward way on whether they feel suicidal or are considering committing it.

• Listen to them and do not judge! Be kind and empathetic.

• Reassure them that there is help and they will not feel like this forever.

• Do not leave them alone

• Make arrangements for appropriate aid from other experts

• Remove means for self-harm.

Get help: No one should ever agree to keep a youth’s suicidal thoughts a secret and instead should tell an appropriate caregiving adult, such as a parent, teacher, or school psychologist/counsellor. Parents should seek help from school or community mental health resources as soon as possible. School staff should take the student to a school-employed mental health professional or administrator.

As for the students themselves, it is also important to be on the look out for any weird or unusual behaviour in yourself, your mates and friends. A lot of times nowadays, youth use social media as a way to seek help. DO NOT ASSUME THAT THEY ARE SIMPLY SEEKING ATTENTION. Don’t gamble with that. So whenever you see any posts with suicidal ideation or posts of self-harm like cutting oneself or jokes on suicide (especially when done more than once) reach out! This could be their cry for help and you could be all they need to stay alive (Okay perhaps not ALL they need but you could play an important role in preventing them from taking their life and that should count for something).

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, once a child or adolescent is considered at risk, schools, families, and friends should work to build these factors in and around the youth. These include:

  • Family support and cohesion, including good communication.
  • Peer support and close social networks.
  • School and community connectedness.
  • Cultural or religious beliefs that discourage suicide and promote healthy living.
  • Adaptive coping and problem-solving skills, including conflict-resolution.
  • General life satisfaction, good self-esteem, sense of purpose.
  • Easy access to effective medical and mental health resources.

To get assistance, here are some counselling offices that you can reach out to, not just when feeling suicidal, but whenever in distress.

  1. Taalluful Quloob: 0780 222 205/0111 222 205
  2. Noor Counselling Centre: 0739 724 234
  3. Amani Counselling Centre: 0735 744 389


Benton, S.A. & Benton, S.L, (2006). College student mental health: Effective services and strategies across campus. National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, Inc.

DeRosier, M. & Lloyd, S. (2010) The Impact of Children’s Social Adjustment on Academic Outcomes, Reading & Writing Quarterly, 27:1-2 DOI: 10.1080/10573569.2011.532710

Grothaus, T. (n.d.) School Counselors Serving Students with Disruptive Behavior Disorders. asca | Professional School Counseling, 16(4).

Worthington, E.L.. (1982). When someone asks for help: A practical guide for counseling. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press

National Association of School Psychologists: https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/mental-health-resources/preventing-youth-suicide/preventing-youth-suicide-tips-for-parents-and-educators