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California State University, Long Beach
CARES Team
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Behavior Definitions

Identifying At-Risk Students

At one time or another, everyone feels depressed or upset. However, there are three levels of student distress which, when present over a period of time, suggest that the problems are more than the ‘normal' reactions to life stressors.

Level 1 Distress

Students who may be emotionally troubled and/or affected by situational stressors and traumatic event(s).

Although not disruptive to others in the classroom or elsewhere, these behaviors in students may indicate that something is wrong, and that help may be needed:

  • Serious grade problems.
  • Unaccountable change from good to poor performance.
  • Change from frequent attendance to excessive absences.
  • Change in pattern of interaction.
  • Marked change in mood, motor activity, or speech.
  • Marked change in physical appearance.

Level 2 Disturbance

Students who may be behaviorally disruptive, acting in an unusual or bizarre fashion, may be destructive and harmful to self or others, and may be abusing substances.

These behaviors in students may indicate significant emotional distress, or a reluctance or inability to acknowledge a need for personal help:

  • Repeated request for special consideration.
  • New or regularly occurring behavior which pushes the limits and may interfere with class management, or be disruptive to others.
  • Unusual or exaggerated emotional response.

Level 3 Dysregulation

Students may be suicidal, para-suicidal (extreme cutting, eating disordered), engaging in risk-taking behaviors (e.g. substance abuse), may be hostile, aggressive, relationally abusive, and may be deficient in skills that regulate emotion, cognition, self, behavior, and relationships.

These behaviors may show that the student is in crisis and needs emergency care:

  • Highly disruptive behavior (hostility, aggression, etc.).
  • Inability to communicate clearly (garbled, slurred speech, disjointed thoughts).
  • Loss of contact with reality (seeing/hearing things that are not there, beliefs or actions at odds with reality).
  • Overt suicidal thoughts (suicide is a current option).
  • Homicidal threats.
  • Individuals deficient in skills that regulate emotion, cognition, self, behavior, and relationships.

What You Can Do

Responses to Level 1 or 2 Behaviors

  • Calmly talk to the student in private when you both have time.
  • Express your concern in non-judgmental terms.
  • Listen to the student and repeat the gist of what the student is saying.
  • Clarify the costs and benefits of each option for handling the problem from the student's point of view.
  • Respect the student's value system.
  • Ask if the student is considering suicide.
  • Make appropriate referrals if necessary.
  • Make sure the student understands what action is necessary.

Responses to Level 3 Behavior

  • Stay calm.
  • Contact emergency responders and/or the CARES Team right away.

Refer a Student to the CARES Team

Refer a student to the CARES Team by submitting a report through our secure online form or call the Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, Dr. Jeff Klaus at (562) 985-8670. If this is an emergency, please call 9-1-1 or University Police (562) 985-4101.


If this is an emergency, please call 9-1-1 or University Police (562) 985-4101.