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Preventative Programs a Good Idea?

Area universities Macalester and St. Thomas have programs to potentially prevent emotional outbursts like the one at Virginia Tech this past week.

Programs in which various professors, administrators and residence hall advisors get together once every few weeks and monitor student behavior is drawing alot of attention as a possible way to help deal with potential mental problems in students.

According to the article in the Star Tribune: "Macalester started its "case management" group after a much-publicized series of student suicides at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The family of one student who killed herself in 2000 sued MIT for almost $28 million. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount.

At Macalester, people from almost every department, including residence halls, student life, international programs and athletics, take part in the biweekly discussions, which are confidential. The idea is that staffers scattered across campus know different things about Macalester's 1,800 students and can create a fuller picture when they come together. Someone from the residence halls, for instance, might know that a student had been fighting with a roommate, while someone from counseling might know that she had problems at home.

Depending on the problem, the student might get academic help, Hamre said, or be asked to go to counseling.

The University of St. Thomas has a similar group called FLAG, which usually meets once a month. Even on a campus with 5,600 undergraduates, it's surprising how often staff members know about individuals' struggles, said Jane Canney, vice president for student affairs."

According to clinical research, depression is on the rise on college campuses. "In spring 2006, nearly 44 percent of college students reported that in the last school year, they had felt so depressed that it was difficult to function, according to a survey by the American College Health Association. Nine percent said they had "seriously considered" suicide.

By 2005 at the University of Minnesota, antidepressants were the second-most prescribed medication at the student health center pharmacy."

Legalities can sometimes be a difficult line to walk, however. "The students are adults, and you can't force them into counseling," said Cecilia Konchar Farr, an English professor at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul.

"I can say, 'I'm concerned about you and I want you to get help,' " she said. But "even that is dangerous territory."To say to someone, 'I'm concerned about your mental health'... there may be a potential lawsuit there."

Although this approach seems to work and be helpful at smaller private campuses like Macalester and St. Thomas, programs like this would likely only work within departments rather than with the entire campus at a big state school like the University of Minnesota, or Virginia Tech, for instance.

Nevertheless, this sort of idea could prove to be helpful in the future

Heres a link to the Star Tribune article.