How do I know if a student is not coping?

How do I know if a student is not coping?

Results from the Second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing indicate that in more than 40 per cent of Australian families in which the child sought help for an emotional or behavioural problem it was a school staff member who suggested the child may need help.

Here are some behaviours to look for in students in order to recognise anxiety and depression.


Although anxiety is a natural response to threat, there are various signs you can look out for in the classroom to determine if someone is experiencing high levels of anxiety:

  • Body symptoms: Heart racing, breathlessness, butterflies, muscle tension, shaky hands, wobbly legs, headaches, sleep problems (particularly difficulty falling asleep and/or broken sleep), difficulty concentrating.
  • Anxious/worrying thoughts: Students may have catastrophic thinking or unrelenting high standards for self (and others) or ask ‘what if’ questions: ‘Nobody likes me – I’m a failure – I can’t do this – If I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t do it at all – I can’t cope.’
  • Behaviour: Avoiding peers, teachers, excursions, school camps, presentations, participating in groups or asking questions in class; asking for help; running away or hiding; procrastinating; seeking reassurance; or lashing out. Yes, lashing out at peers, parents and teachers may be a result of anxiety.


The difference between sadness and depression rests in a combination of factors – the duration of negative feelings and symptoms, and the ability to function in daily life. The following symptoms would be present nearly every day, for a couple of weeks:

  • A loss of enjoyment in activities they used to enjoy.
  • A lack of energy.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Weight loss/gain without trying.
  • An inability to make decisions.
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Withdrawing.

In the video below, Dr Philippe Gilchrist from the Centre for Emotional Health and Department of Psychology at Macquarie University talks to teachers and educators about how to know whether your students are coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch the video or download the tip sheet.

Video - How do I know if a student is not coping?

Content owner: Centre for Emotional Health Last updated: 14 May 2020 2:08pm

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