(Editor’s Note: I wrote this post about monitoring the mental health of young adults yesterday morning before the gunman burst into the McNair Discovery Learning Academy. I am still running this item because I think it is very relevant to the discussion of this school incident. I have no idea what is happening in the mind of 20-year-old suspect Michael Brandon Hill, but I bet some warning signs were missed. I hope this young adult gets the help that he needs, and I am so glad no children or school staff were hurt in the incident. I truly admire the way the school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff shared her experiences with him and helped calm him. Maybe the warning signs discussed below could help prevent other possible tragedies.)
This is my third year teaching at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and every year I am amazed by how much the school wants to support the students – not just academically but emotionally.
We had training last Saturday and the deans brought in the director of ASU’s counseling services, Barbara Meehan, to speak to the associate faculty (more than 50 of us in all) about how to identify college students in distress and how to find help for the students if they need it.
Meehan told us that suicide is the second leading cause of death for college students. Accidents are first – often caused by impulsivity and/or drug/alcohol-related impairment.
Students’ issues can run the gamut from homesickness to physical illness to food insecurity (broke!) to deaths in the family, to postpartum depression (many have babies of their own) to forms of mental illness.
The professors are on the front lines keeping our eyes and ears open for issues. Meehan told us some of the signs to look for, which would probably help parents as well. Here’s the list:
Negative change in performance
Continual seeking of special accommodations
Essays or creative work that indicates extremes of hopelessness, social isolation, rage or despair
Direct statements indicating distress, family problems or other difficulties
Unprovoked anger or hostility
A hunch or gut-level reaction that something is wrong
Deterioration of physical appearance
Coming to class bleary-eyed, hung over or smelling of alcohol
Visible changes in weight
Written or verbal statement of finality or suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming others
Giving away of prized possessions
History of suicidal thoughts or attempts
Self-injuries or self-destructive behaviors”
If a professor is concerned then they have lots of options depending on the severity of the situation:
It is an amazing network of support, and as a parent I would feel good knowing all of these adults are watching over my student and are there to support them. (I swear it’s more support than my kids get in elementary or middle school.)
I challenge other universities to talk to their faculty about these emotional and mental health issues and create a support system for the students.
I think parents should be asking about these types of programs when they are choosing a college. Who is there to support my student? Does anyone care at the university or in your child’s particular college how they are doing emotionally and mentally?
Does your child’s university offer these types of support programs? Did they talk about them with the parents during tours or orientation? Is this too much to expect from a school?