In 35 years of educating young adults, I’ve learned that a sense of perspective often comes last in the maturation process. In the first years of adulthood, discouragement and failure can appear overwhelming and insuperable. It seems to me that older adults can do so much in such situations through simple concern and sensitive support. The practical ideas in this website can be easy and natural tools for weaving the safety net that will make the difference between significant life and senseless death.
In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech Tragedy, campus administrators are even more worried about making the right decisions when it comes to mental health and their students. Some are fearful of liability and wondering where the balance is between discipline, confidentiality, and support. As a campus leader you are in a critical position to make informed decisions that influence the culture of your campus. You can be a catalyst creating support for the major public health issues of mental health promotion and suicide prevention. By working with a team of campus staff and experts, you can build a safety net around troubled students and help keep them enrolled. Mental illness is often at the root of many problems that campuses face – substance abuse, attrition and disruption to the community. Finding a non-discriminatory and non-punitive approach to students in mental health crisis is the goal.
One of the challenges encountered in administering a suicide prevention initiative is maintaining a caring atmosphere for the struggling student rather than a punitive one. At times, a student who may be feeling suicidal is identified by the university community and is required to see a counselor. We rely on our counselors to create the caring and safe atmosphere the student needs. We also employ all areas of the University community to identify distressed students, which requires extensive training and critical coordination.
Having a mentally healthy campus not only affects the students’ lives, but the faculty and staff as well. Knowing that mental disorders are one of the leading disabilities facing workplaces today, you can help retain highly productive and engaged employees by supporting the vision for a comprehensive mental health campaign.
Colleges and universities should be committed to the success of all their students, including those with mental health needs, and should know what to do when a student is in crisis because of a mental health problem.
- Setting the tone for suicide prevention on your campus through visible personal commitment to the issues
- Determining “reasonable accommodations”
- Navigating legal responsibility
- Sustaining proven harm prevention and health promotion strategies
- Minimizing operating costs
- Supporting a campus in the aftermath of a suicide
For more information, please check out the following links.
- Supporting Students: A Model Policy for Colleges and Universities (Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law)
- Framework for Institutional Protocols for the Acutely Distressed or Suicidal Student (Jed Foundation)
- Suicide on Campus: The Appropriate Legal Responsibility of College Personnel (Marquette Law Review)
- Safeguarding Against Suicide – A Checklist (American College Health Association)
- Promoting Mental Health and Preventing Suicide in College Settings (Suicide Prevention Resource Center)
- Lessons learned from Virginia Tech, Darby Dickerson
- NASPA article on Mandatory Leave, Darby Dickerson
- Lessons from Virginia Tech PowerPoint, Darby Dickerson
- Student Mental Health and the Law