Stuck: Personal Rights vs. Public Safety

A few weeks back me and my hubby attended a Mental Health seminar held at the University of Maryland. We work with college students, and mental health is a continual problem on campuses everywhere. So we are constantly seeking advice because we love our students. The seminar was informative, for sure, but I left with more questions.

I’m going to take you back to my Hall Director days. And what I’m about to share my make you feel uncomfortable. But that’s not my intentions.

One of my RAs called me because her resident was banging her head against the wall. I was in my pajamas so I slide on my staff jacket over it. I didn’t have to go far, just down the hallway. When I got there, the resident was still hitting her head against the wall and she was bleeding. Even though I had worked in residence life for five years, handled several situations, I was still a little scared. She assured me she was fine—just stressed. Somehow I got the resident to calm down and to promise me that she wouldn’t hurt herself. It was 4am-ish, and I honestly wasn’t sure if I was making the right decision in leaving this resident alone. But she told me she wasn’t suicidal, and I wanted to believe her.

When I got back to my little apartment, I didn’t bother to wake my husband. He looked so peaceful, I, on the other hand, couldn’t sleep. All I thought about was that resident and if she’d be dead in the morning. I prayed that I had made the right decision. I called her two hours later, she was okay and a little shocked about my concern.

On college campuses, situations like this happens more than anyone would like to admit. Most schools want prospective students (really parents) to believe they’ve creative some Utopian environment that will foster academic growth and personal development. And I believe many practitioners really work hard to do just that. But here’s the deal, let’s drop off thousands of 18-21 year olds, give them a ton of work and remind them that their future success depends on it,  make them live with each other, encourage self-discovery, and there are bound to be a few mental melt-downs.

At times I felt lost confronting situations because students weren’t required to self-disclose. I never knew which students struggles with mental health unless they told me. So I spent many years treating symptoms because the cause was a privacy right that each student had—and still have to this day. I respect this right, I do. I just wonder can a right to privacy compromise public safety? For me, it’s a hard question to answer. Mental health is one of the themes in my book. I hope it will spark discussion that helps lead to a solution.

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