Thursday, May 10, 2007

Treating the Invisible Pain

At Virginia Tech, some knew that Cho Seung-Hui was a troubled young man, but their hands were tied: legally there was nothing they could do because of issues and privacy and rights.

As the horror at Virginia Tech was unfolding, I was writing a story for our booklet Words Can Work: When Talking About Mental Health. It‘s the story of Chris, a young man who suffers from a mood disorder that, as he says, is a on the spectrum between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Chris had his first psychotic episode at a large university. Leading up to his break from reality, his behavior worried his family. The school faculty – aware that he was having problems - was unwilling to have any open communication with the family about Chris.

“Meet him at his apartment and call 911,” a member of the school’s mental health services told Chris’ mother Eileen.

A friend of Eileen’s told her that when the police arrive, she should tell them that Chris would hurt himself or someone else if he’s not admitted to the hospital. That’s the only way a hospital will admit a patient against his will, she explained.

Eileen heeded the advice. It was the first step toward getting her son the help that he needed – and likely saving his life.

In high schools and colleges across the country there are young adults desperate for help.

The Virginia Tech tragedy is provoking a necessary national dialogue about mental health. Dr. David Hayes, a clinical psychologist with Louisiana State University's Mental Health Service, says what happened at Virginia is like 9/11 for universities. There will be debate about people’s rights vs. the public’s safety. But policy and laws will change and thousands will get the help they need.

Resources
Depression: True Stories
Words Can Work: When Talking About Mental Health

Related Issues and Answers columns
Bi-polar disorder
Coping with stress

Related columns for young people

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