UT sees rise in mental health cases, reflects national trend

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More UT students who go to the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center have urgent needs or serious mental health issues than in the past, according to center administrators.

This trend parallels similar changes nationwide. According to the American College Counseling Association’s 2010 national survey, 91 percent of counseling center directors reported a trend toward more severe cases at their colleges. The number of urgent student mental health cases has significantly increased for at least the past 10 years, according to the association’s survey.

At UT and nationwide, more students present mental health issues such as bipolar disorder, learning disabilities or psychiatric medication issues.

Since he became director of the UT Counseling and Mental Health Center in 2006, Dr. Chris Brownson said he has noticed a change in problems students bring to the center.

“I’d say in my time at the counseling center, we have seen an increase in the severity,” Brownson said. “At the same time, students still come in for other reasons, like dealing with a relationship or dealing with anxiety they feel is holding them back in classes.”

Dr. Jane Morgan Bost, associate director of the center, said the causes of these increases haven’t been researched fully but have a few probable causes. She said students today face increased academic pressures and widespread economic difficulties and uncertainty. Also, a higher number of students with serious mental health issues are able to attend college because of what newer medications and treatments contribute, she said.

Jared Loughner, the suspect in the Jan. 8 Arizona shooting that left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in intensive care, showed signs of mental illness before the incident. Pima Community College, which Loughner briefly attended, identified warning signs of a potential mental illness in Loughner before the shooting. Although the college contacted Loughner’s parents, he never received medical attention from the school.

Loughner will appear in court before a federal judge Monday for his arraignment.

For cases where students present warning signs of mental illness or danger to other students, UT operates a Behavior Concerns Advice Line.

Bost said the behavior advice line helps the University find and address mental health issues similar to those Loughner presented. She said the line is operated by the Office of the Dean of Students and multiple UT departments. She said the Division of Student Affairs, the UT Center for Counseling and Mental Health, Services for Students with Disabilities and the UT Police Department all work together closely to provide students with the services they need.
She said a call on the advice line could result in anything from a call from student affairs to the beginning of a counseling program.

UTPD Detective Michael Riojas said when the line receives a tip, they usually notify the police department. Riojas said the police department usually takes action on a few cases a month, but the load distribution is inconsistent.

After being notified of a concern, Riojas said the department does research on the student in question and usually ends up either bringing the student in for a discussion with the dean of the Division of Student Affairs or sending out officers to interview the student.