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Recognizing Distress

Some of the more common forms of psychological distress observed in people include the following.

Depression. While just about everyone gets depressed from time to time, individuals suffering from significant levels of depression exhibit an array of symptoms:

  • Insomnia or change in sleep patterns
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Change in appetite
  • Loss of ability to experience happiness or pleasure
  • Apathy
  • Sloppiness
  • Crying
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • No desire to socialize
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Preoccupation with death

Having only one symptom is usually not enough to describe someone as severely depressed. When several of these symptoms occur for an extended period of time, however, a person may be experiencing a depressive episode.

Anxiety. Employees and students suffering from anxiety problems can experience panic attacks or extreme fear about specific situations (e.g., being in public places). Exposure to a traumatic experience can also cause someone to develop anxiety problems, symptoms of which include flashbacks, avoiding things associated with the traumatic event, and being easily startled.

Unusual acting out. Individuals in distress may exhibit behavior that differs significantly from normal socially appropriate behavior, including being repeatedly and excessively disruptive or overly antagonistic, and acting in a bizarre or peculiar manner.

Other signs of distress. It is important to observe changes from a person’s previous behavior that may signal distress. These signs of distress include:

  • Drop in attendance or a drop in the quality of work
  • More generally tense, sad, or disheveled appearance
  • Abrupt change in mood (often with irritability/agitation) in times of acute distress (such as deadlines)
  • Development of inappropriate or bizarre responses, such as talking off the subject and rambling or laughing inappropriately.

Any of these signs of distress might be especially concerning in coworker or student whom you know has a history of mental illness. The more symptoms observed, the more likely it is that the individual is truly distressed.