December 1, 2011

Interventions Used by Virginia's Colleges to Respond to Student Mental Health Crises

Volume 62, Issue 12, pp. 1439-1442
John Monahan, Susan Davis, Christopher Flynn

Objective:

This study examined interventions by colleges in 2008–2009 to respond to students during mental health crises.

Methods:

Public (N=15) and private (N=25) four-year colleges and two-year community colleges (N=23) in Virginia were surveyed about academic policies governing responses to apparent mental health crises among students and how often they were invoked.

Results:

Procedures used most often by public and private colleges, respectively, were parental notification (six and 25 per 10,000 students); voluntary medical withdrawal, usually linking readmission to treatment (29 and 25 per 10,000 students); mandatory treatment following disciplinary sanction (302 and 1,704 per 10,000 students); and monitoring by a campus threat assessment team (15 and 51 per 10,000 students). Procedures for involuntary hospitalization and involuntary medical withdrawal were rarely invoked. Community colleges were much less likely than four-year colleges to use any of these procedures.

Conclusions:

Most four-year colleges in Virginia, both public and private, occasionally invoke a variety of protective interventions to respond to apparent mental health crises experienced by students, but the number of students annually affected by these policies is generally small. The main value of procedures for mandated or leveraged treatment in college may be to motivate students with mental illness to seek treatment voluntarily. Aside from sporadic use of threat assessment teams in extreme instances, community colleges, which do not have counseling centers, lack the capacity to undertake these interventions. (Psychiatric Services 62:1439–1442, 2011)