Rushing a student to a psychiatric emergency room is never routine, but when Stony Brook University logged three trips in three days, it did not surprise Jenny Hwang, the director of counseling. It was deep into the fall semester, a time of mounting stress with finals looming and the holiday break not far off, an anxiety all its own. On a Thursday afternoon, a freshman who had been scraping bottom academically posted thoughts about suicide on Facebook. If I were gone, he wrote, would anybody notice? An alarmed student told staff members in the dorm, who called Dr. Hwang after hours, who contacted the campus police. Officers escorted the student to the county psychiatric hospital. There were two more runs over that weekend, including one late Saturday night when a student grew concerned that a friend with a prescription for Xanax, the anti-anxiety drug, had swallowed a fistful. On Sunday, a supervisor of residence halls, Gina Vanacore, sent a BlackBerry update to Dr. Hwang, who has championed programs to train students and staff members to intervene to prevent suicide.
“If you weren’t so good at getting this bystander stuff out there,” Ms. Vanacore wrote in mock exasperation, “we could sleep on the weekends.”
Stony Brook is typical of American colleges and universities these days, where national surveys show that nearly half of the students who visit counseling centers are coping with serious mental illness, more than double the rate a decade ago. More students take psychiatric medication, and there are more emergencies requiring immediate action, reports the New York Times.
“It’s so different from how people might stereotype the concept of college counseling, or back in the ’70s students coming in with existential crises: who am I?” said Dr. Hwang, whose staff of 29 includes psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and social workers. “Now they’re bringing in life stories involving extensive trauma, a history of serious mental illness, eating disorders, self-injury, alcohol and other drug use.”
Experts say the trend is partly linked to effective psychotropic drugs (Wellbutrin for depression, Adderall for attention disorder, Abilify for bipolar disorder) that have allowed students to attend college who otherwise might not have functioned in a campus setting…