Will mental health info follow you?

The panel assembled to investigate the Virginia Tech tragedy made more than 70 recommendations to colleges dealing with campus, safety, students’ mental health issues and how to handle a crisis on campus.

The panel, created by Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, said in the report issued Aug. 30, “The university did not intervene effectively. No one knew all the information and no one connected all the dots.” Because of this statement, many are now arguing that mental health records should be available to colleges.

But if colleges were able to get mental health information, would it help them diagnose and treat troubled students?

Dr. Barbara Sween, director of the health and counseling center, said, “The easy answer is yes.”

But Sween said there are risks to making that information more accessible.

“It would have the potential to create the notion not to get treatment,” she said, because the information would no longer be confidential.

When a student seeks counseling either on or off campus, written records are kept. These records are confidential unless the patient is believed to be in imminent danger of harming himself or others, or if they are released by the patient.

Dean of Students Matt Brown said dangerous behavior cannot be predicted.

“We have some eccentric students on campus, and we have to be careful not to single them out,” he said.

Students can be referred to his office if they threaten or try to intimidate another student, Brown said, or they consistently talk about dangerous behavior. After he receives the referral, he sends the student a letter notifying them of the complaint and asks to set up a time to meet.

If it is determined the student is a danger, he or she will be asked to leave the university and return with proof of a stable mental health status. Brown was quick to add that the campus is open, so just because the student is asked to leave doesn’t mean he will not be able to reenter the campus.

Another way Northern Kentucky University is trying to help students with campus safety is with a program called Question, Persuade, Refer. This class is designed for anyone who may have contact with someone who is contemplating suicide. It teaches participants about signs to look for in someone who may be contemplating suicide, how to ask people if they are thinking about suicide and persuade them to get help and refer them for help.

Sween said it was offered first to the student wellness staff, then it was re-evaluated and offered to residential assistants in housing. The Health and Counseling ‘ Preventative Services is now working with the athletic department and the office of first-year programs to develop a course for the entire student body.

“We’d really like to train everyone on campus,” Sween said.