Sunday, April 22, 2007

Follow-up to yesterday's post

The Associated Press reports that across America, college counseling centers are strained by rising numbers of mentally ill students and surging demand for mental health services - a challenging trend as campus officials try to identify potential threats like the unstable Virginia Tech gunman.

And even when serious emotional problems are detected, university officials often feel constrained in how they respond due to an array of laws and policies protecting students' rights and privacy.

Reasons for the surge include the Americans with Disabilities Act, which gives mentally ill students the right to be at college, and increasingly sophisticated medications which enable them to function better than in the past.

A survey last year by the American College Health Association found that 8.5 percent of students had seriously considered suicide, and 15 percent were diagnosed for depression, up from 10 percent in 2000. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America found that 13 percent of students at major universities and 25 percent at liberal arts colleges are using campus mental health services.

On the downside, she and her colleagues see stress levels among students far higher than a generation ago due to increased workloads and financial strains, often coupled with lack of healthy lifestyles.

Complicating the overall picture is a web of laws and policies that limit the options for worried staff members. Troubled students generally can't be forced to obtain treatment, and privacy laws may limit sharing information about them, even to the extent that some parents have sued schools - including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Oregon Institute of Technology - for not advising them of their children's serious disorders.

Nonetheless, officials on many campuses have set up committees to pool information about students with emotional or behavioral problems so patterns can be detected in what might otherwise be seen as isolated incidents. The trick, officials say, is to find the proper balance between respecting a student's rights and protecting the university.

I wonder if President Bush's committees will recommend monies to help universities deal with the problem as opposed to blaming state organizations and universities...

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