Distress protocol guidance


In preparing for their research projects and human research ethics applications, researchers should consider the potential for distress to participants and, where applicable, attach a distress protocol to their application, detailing how they will respond to participant distress, and taking into account such factors as:

  • Consider and identify potential risk to experience distress (physical, psychological / emotional distress)
  • Identify any key stages during the project when participants could be more likely to experience distress (e.g., during recruitment, during data collection, following data collection)
  • Identify what occurrences/signs will trigger action, including what the researcher will actively monitor / look for
  • what initial actions will be taken
  • what follow-up, if any, might take place should a participant suffer adverse events as a result of participating in the research
  • identifying any support resources that might be referred to / made available, and at what points during the project this information will be provided / reiterated. Contact details for sources of support should ideally be tailored to participant groups – e.g., migrant services for migrant participants, child resources for children, etc. Consider if there are any local services that might be most suitable / accessible for the relevant participant group.
  • identify/acknowledge that any adverse effects on research participants or reportable events will be reported within 72 hours to the Human Research Ethics Office (humanethics@unisa.edu.au) using the Adverse or Reportable Event Form (as per details found here: https://i.unisa.edu.au/staff/research/research-ethics/human-research-ethics/adverse-reportable-events/)
  • identify any potential for participants to disclose reportable events during the study / mandatory reporting requirements for the researcher and, if applicable, clarify how this will be managed and whether (and under what circumstances) information may be reported to relevant authorities.

The publication linked here may be useful in your development of a distress protocol.