Monday, April 23, 2007

Weekly Podium: "It's Not Really About Guns"

A week has come to pass since the horrible tragedy that took place on 04/16/2007 in Blacksburg, VA. Since then, there has been a lot of banter in the media about gun control issues, security on campus, bullying in schools, and other problems. Gun control, either for or against, seems to be the central topic on most people's minds.

Maybe, though, this problem with this incident has much less to do with guns, bullying, and campus security than some may think.

Personally, I believe that the key problem deals with the mental stability of college students today. I've spent plenty of time around college students in our current generation...I was one. Also, I have had plenty of friends who have gone, or are still in, college. The pressures of college are immense. Tens of thousands of dollars are being invested in you, so that you can excel at institutes of higher learning. You are supposed to meet the expectations of people who are considered experts and authorities on their respective subjects. You must write essays that your professors will approve of, and read tens of thousands of pages of bland text while researching the topics. Many people do manage to survive (or thrive, if lucky) in this environment.

Some, however, end up suffering through less-successful endeavors in higher academia.

Given the fact that many kids grow up in broken and/or abusive homes, endure traumatic ostracization in primary and secondary schools, or suffer from other kinds of mental/psychological afflictions...why are we surprised when someone completely cracks under the pressure of the post-secondary educational system in America?

The person responsible for the Virginia Tech massacre, Cho Seung-Hui, had long-standing psychological issues. Apparently, it was obvious to teachers, students, and experts who evaluated Cho and believed him to be a threat to himself and/or others. How come there wasn't a non-derogatory suspension (for lack of a better term) from the school so Cho could receive proper treatment and care?

I, along with more than a few people I know, believe that the psychological condition of college students should be something that is evaluated before being allowed to enter a school of higher education.

We interview, test, and evaluate potential college students based upon SAT/ACT scores, application essays, and sometimes in face-to-face interviews (depending on the school). Why not have students go through a psychiatric evaluation, as well? It would at least cut down on the suicide rate in our universities, as well as the dropout rate due to school-related stress and anxiety.

It wouldn't have to be a long evaluation, just long enough to get a sense of the person applying for enrollment. Also, if a student needs to be evaluated and/or counseled during their time at the university for mental instability of any kind, there should be steps put in place to allow students to "take a break" from school and get the assistance they need, and once they are deemed ready to come back to school, they should be allowed back in without any problems...but should be made to attend periodic counseling or evaluations, just to make sure they are still doing well.

This would cost money, both with the inclusion of psychiatric evaluators on university payrolls, and the exclusion of those students who fail the evaluation (and their tuition dollars). However, I'm sure that state and federal government wouldn't mind avoiding more incidents like the one at Virginia Tech, nor would they mind decreasing the college suicide rate.

Here's some facts about suicide amongst high school and college students:
  • Nearly 1,100 suicides are projected to occur this year on college campuses.
  • In the past 50 years, the suicide rate for 15-24 year olds has increased 200%.
  • Suicide is the second-leading cause of death of college students, only behind traffic accidents.
  • Since 1950, the suicide rate for college-aged women has doubled, for college-aged men the rate has tripled.

Now, the suicide rate in colleges compared to the "real world" is lower, but we shouldn't send kids into a high-pressure environment like college without making sure that they are mentally and emotionally capable of handling it. To further exacerbate a person's psychological instability with the pressure of college does not necessarily bode well for their chances in the real world, provided they make it through college.

My friend Hunter Golden recently ranted about the relative psychological instability of college students through his own experiences working at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachussetts. While his rant is admittedly rambling and sometimes disjointed, the stories and points made within are interesting and worth a read. Some of the stories about these disturbed students, and the lack of reaction to their issues, is a bit shocking.

While my attempts to find a solution to this ever-present problem of mental and emotional instability amongst college students are a bit far-fetched to be implemented immediately, I would hope that small steps could be taken to start such a process. Maybe then, we can get people like Cho Sueng-Hui the proper help and care he needed before he decided to carry out his own personal, crazed idea of vengeance.

The thing is, will the colleges and universities of America be willing to part with the tuition funds from those turned away?


Anonymous said...

And I suppose people such as yourself on a panel could judge the potential college admissions with a flawless track record, I mean since you have absolutly no experience in psychiatrics as far as any form of degree goes in general or any True experience in human affairs, I am only sure things would go just swimmingly...

such as the equivalent of a rock sinking in a pond...

Phil Chroniger said...

Your argument holds no water, as I said that you would need "psychiatric evaluators", i.e: people who are experts in this field. How does my own personal background play into this?

As I said, your statement holds no water.