Thursday, April 19, 2007

Mental health services

The shootings in Virginia call attention to the mental health services available on college campuses in the US. Here's an excerpt from an article entitled "Mental Health Problems Common on College Campuses":

The fact that Cho Seung-Hui, the 23-year-old senior who allegedly killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech on Monday, was mentally troubled sheds harsh new light on a sad truth: For many students, the college years are far from the best years of their lives.

Depression, anxiety, and other serious mental health problems are increasingly common among college and university students in the United States.

-- About 10 percent of students have seriously considered committing suicide.
-- Forty-five percent of students say they've been so depressed it was difficult to function.
-- More than 30 percent of freshmen report feeling overwhelmed a great deal of the time.

Students are seeking help for these problems. Students' use of campus mental health services has risen at almost all schools over the past three years, with 13 percent of students now using campus mental health services, according to a 2007 survey by the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. But they don't always get the help they need. "There's striking variability in services," says Erig Heiligenstein, clinical director of psychiatry for health services at the University of Wisconsin?Madison. That variability, Heiligenstein says, "is scary." Parents usually aren't aware of what sorts of mental health services are available to their children. Some schools have accredited on-campus mental health programs, with therapists and psychiatrists on campus; others send troubled students to the university's career counseling service because they don't provide mental health services as part of student health.

On many campuses, students complain that they have to wait two or three weeks for an initial counseling appointment. The rising demand is due partly to growing enrollments, partly to less stigma against seeking help, and also, students and health officials say, because students feel anxious and pressured to perform. At the same time, some students are being treated for serious mental illnesses that a generation ago would have kept them out of school. Jerald Kay, chair of the department of psychiatry at Wright State University School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio, says he treats students with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which require both intensive psychotherapy and medication. Many schools don't have psychiatrists on staff, Kay says, which can force students and their families to try to find help off campus. "I don't know what happened at Virginia Tech," Kay says. "But we need to marshal more educational efforts on how you identify students with problems. There are warning signs, which might include intense anger, depression, suicidal thought or actions, and prolonged low self-esteem."

That we need to do better as a society goes without saying.

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