Sunday, March 2, 2008

mentally ill students and danger to self/others

(this is one of the many old facebook notes i had on m profile prior to staring this the date of the post is not really connected to the date of the incident or the issue particularly timely..but its an issue i feel strongly about)

i have written about this issue many times before on online forums and such. once after the GW incident (where a student was kicked out of school for simply requesting a voluntary hospital and and eventually settled a lawsuit with the university...see

and again after the VT which a student who had been previously adjudicated by the court as having been a danger to himself or others..was allowed to purchase a handgun and attend classes...these facts are here:

what people sometimes fail to realize about this issue is what a black hole this is...there really are no concrete rules a university has to or can follow... there are just..lawsuits...lawsuits when the university kicks people out..and lawsuits when they don't and something happens.

so my position all along (and in these posts) has been that there should be legislative guidance. If you go to a doctor and he butchers can win a suit if he hasn't acted reasonably according to loose if he has..even if he makes you a vegetable.

why shouldn't it be the same for mental health at university? why shouldn't there be concrete guidance by which the universities act. they act one way if the facts are such (maybe hes just depressed) they act another if the facts are another way (he is suicidal)..they act a third way if hes obsessed with guns...if hes stable or on medication that might be a consideration etc..)

unfortunately...thats kinda similar to asking why doesn't congress adsress the coke/crack discrepancy in sentencing.. ***UDPATE..shows how old this note is--before the recent supreme court and sentencing guideline remedial decisions about crack/coke***

the issue is a loose politically..nobody wants to touch it...nobody wants to LOWER drug penalties..even if its to make them fair with other drug penalties...and nobody wants to be responsible for the law that caused a massacre..or a unfortunate premature university dismissal.

its much easier for the state or federal legislatures to debate gay marriage..and let the lawyers and courts litigate the issue to death using laws that only tangentially discuss the issue

i understand there cant be a rulebook to tell you how to move in every situation.

but there can be rules that tell you not to throw the GW guy out simply for just seeking treatment and nothing else.
and there can be rules requiring either counseling or expulsion (if counseling refused) for someone who had a court document saying he was a danger to self or others (like the VT shooter had)

in many cases..even rules that are controversial...and even arbitrary compromises are better than no rules at all.

of course..i realize some people might feel differently...but let me tell you what i do know..anyone who says that the Americans with disability act permits X regarding students with mental problems or prohibits probably stretching the truth..courts are very far from deciding whats what...partly because these cases are settled before trial..or just end at trial..never getting to the appeal stage where case president is set.

update-Bazelon mental health policy center (the same people who represented the GW student above) has put together a responsibly sound model policy for universities..maybe somebody will listen.

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