Counseling for college students

August 7, 2008 2:38:52 PM PDT
Mental health issues have become a significant concern on college campus, especially after a number of people were killed by students with mental illness. Last year, 32 people were shot to death at Virginia Tech by a student with mental illness. The shootings have led a new focus on the mental health of college students.

On Valentine's Day, five Northern Illinois University students were killed by a student with mental illness. Both gunman killed themselves.

"I think it shook people up, but I don't think it was all bad, because I think to some degree there are problems that have been ignored for a while," said Anne Sullivan Soydan, an assistant professor at Boston University.

Soydan was one of the speakers at the United States Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association Conference that was held in Chicago last month.

"The presidents and the provosts are realizing this is something that really warrants attention," said Soydan.

Karin Brockman is another conference speaker. She graduated from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana

"My PhD is in special education and I'm a post doctoral fellow in psychiatric rehabilitation"," said Brockman. "I got involved because I personally have a mental illness, I was diagnosed in high school, and I know how easy it is for students to get derailed from education."

One week after the shooting at Virginia Tech, Brockman was invited to speak to about 200 undergraduate students.

"I had been invited to speak as a guest speaker about mental illness, and I was worried about it...how they were going to respond to me, and the students were fantastic," said Brockman.

University of Illinois-Chicago, professor of psychiatry Dr. Judith Cook says many college students have been dealing with suicide, date rape and substance abuse.

"But it's taken these events at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois to focus our attention on how important it is to pay attention to students' mental health on campus," said Dr. Cook. "Students on campus are under a lot of stress, they have exams and they have careers they're trying to launch, and I think we see some of the results of that."

How should colleges reach out to these students?

"I think people have to take responsibility for knowing when they're having problems and seeking help. At the same time, there has to be help available to seek," said Dr. Cook.

"I think the best thing to do is make services available to all students so that students don't have to disclose to administrators or to faculty," said Brockman.

"I think we have to work on the stigma, and I think if we want people to disclose and get services we have to make it safe for them to do so," said Soydan.

Most colleges have counseling centers and information available to students on their website.

For more information about the U.S. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association go to their website, www.uspra.org.


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