Mental Illness - Safety In Colleges & Universities (Part 5) - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

Mental Illness - Safety In Colleges & Universities (Part 5)

WMDT 47 NEWS - Local colleges and universities are closely following the debate over gun control and mental health.

The Counseling Center at Salisbury University admits they have been actively addressing mental health issues, for over half a decade now.

For many institutes of higher education, the massacre at Virginia Tech was a turning point.  

In 2007, a former student, Seung-Hui Cho, killed 33 people on Virginia Tech's campus, including himself.

Then just about 4 years later, another troubled college student, Jarred Loughner, opens fire on a group of people in a Tucson, Arizona parking lot...killing 6 and wounding 13.

And last year, former University of Colorado student, James Holmes, reportedly opens fire in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater...12 people killed, 58 others wounded.

In hindsight, experts admit it's hard to ignore the many shared characteristics between these individuals.

But perhaps, the most disturbing similarity is the revelation that during their time spent in college, there were folks who noticed their strange behavior, but failed to prevent the tragedies.

Which is why there is renewed effort at universities across the country, to spot troubled students, and get them help.

"Fortunately, shootings are extremely rare," admits Dr. Kathleen Scott, Director of The Counseling Center, at Salisbury University.  "But what's not rare are students who have thoughts about killing themselves, or are depressed to the point they're not going to classes anymore, and they're just not functioning.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college age students nationwide.

And just this January, Salisbury University qualified for a $302,000 dollar grant to fund an outreach program and purchase a new online training program.  

They hope to use this, coupled with hands-on training exercises, to prepare students, staff, and teachers in the event of a crisis.

"It's got to be practiced," stresses Scott. "It can't be just what you learn about in a power-point presentation.  You need to be able to do it, and implement it, and it does take time to learn that skill set."

SU also has a coordinated response team, which meets weekly to discuss students of concern. "They might be disruptive in class or they might be demonstrating some disturbing behaviors," Scott explains, "and we talk about what's going on with them and figure out a plan for intervening...kind of a safety net for them."

"SU will rely heavily on their allied partners," Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis says about the discussion and collaboration between university security and local law enforcement agencies, "and we will be there for them every step of the way."

Mental health experts, like Dr. Kathryn Seifert with Eastern Shore Psychological Services, say colleges and universities are on the right track.  But to truly help students, she says suspensions and expulsions should be a thing of the past.

"It goes way back to an old line of thinking," explains Seifert. "Is a kid 'bad' or is he 'ill'? And for a long time violence was thought of as a kid being 'bad'. So what colleges and high schools have done in expelling these kids is they've sent them out into the community, but they're still dangerous."

SU's counseling program may now have the money for outreach, but they admit, they still need more full time counselors to handle the possible influx of students coming in for help.

And they're trying to figure out how to pay for that.

In the final part of WMDT's special report on Mental Illness, we highlight some controversial new legislative proposals to protect public safety.

This could help local law enforcement, but some worry it puts patient confidentiality at risk.

Mental Illness & Guns - Making Changes (Part 6)

WMDT 47 NEWS - Wicomico County Sheriff, Mike Lewis, admits he and his deputies handle mental illness cases quite often.

Mental Illness And Schools (Part 4)

WMDT 47 NEWS - February 14th marks two months since the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. And now, there are a number of proposals on the table, both locally and nationally, on how to prevent this type of mass violence.

Mental Illness - How & When To Seek Help (Part 3)

WMDT 47 NEWS - Mental Illness can be a very sensitive subject. And trying to get a loved one, a friend, or a co-worker help might be an uncomfortable situation.

Mental Illness - Know The Warning Signs (Part 2)

WMDT 47 NEWS - In Part 1 of WMDT's Special Report on Mental Illness, we heard from mental health experts and the Wicomico County Sheriff about the need to be more open about the topic of Mental Health.

Mental Illness - Moving Past The Stigma (Part 1)

WMDT 47 NEWS - The recent mass shootings across our nation spurred a national debate over gun control. But many Americans, law enforcement officials, and mental health professionals are calling for attention to another issue at the heart of the recent violence...Mental Illness.

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