Thursday, February 3, 2011

An Emerging Approach To Mental Health On College Campuses

A Jan. 30 article in “The Chronicle of Higher Education” discusses new methods that college administrators are looking at to deal with students who show signs of mental illness. Author Benjamin Reiss focuses on mandatory psychological evaluations and the growth of "'behavioral intervention teams,' 'threat assessment teams,' and programs in 'threat management,'" which have exploded since the spring 2007 shooting at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Reiss says that Virginia Tech professors tried to get gunman Seung-Hui Cho into counseling but were blocked by a policy preventing involuntary referrals to the school's counseling center. Officials at Pima Community College, where alleged gunman Jared Loughner was a student, suspended him until he could produce documentation from a mental-health professional stating that he was not a danger to himself or others. Instead, Loughner withdrew from the school.

Reiss brings up several potential problems with the mandatory evaluations that universities are now considering to address these students, such as what factors will be used to determine whether a student’s behavior is “threatening” or “merely odd,” and the chance of students being subjected to involuntary hospitalizations.

With the right guidelines put into place to accurately assess whether or not a student is exhibiting true signs of a mental illness, requiring that he or she visit a psychologist can be, literally, a life-saving step. People suffering from mental illnesses don’t always realize that they have a problem, so it’s up to those who have the best knowledge of their behavior to step in. In some cases that means friends or family, but in other cases it means a student’s college or university.

-Alyssa Flisiak

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