Ithaca College’s current policies for responding to mental health crises do not meet the needs of every student and need to be reassessed. The college communicated welling all resources available to students, including the 24-hour crisis hotline and on-campus counseling opportunities. Currently, the college is changing procedures and responding to concerns expressed by the community for some time. These concerns emerged after students had to see their peers escorted to Cayuga Medical Center by Public Security, sometimes handcuffed, if they were considered a danger to themselves or to others. These policies are changing – students are now transported to Cayuga Medical Center by ambulance rather than in a public security vehicle. This change is laudable, but it cannot cure the traumatic experiences that countless students have endured at the hands of Public Safety. oofficers.
Public safety is essential to ensure that everyone’s safety is taken into consideration. WWhile officers should continue to be part of the Mental Health Appeal Response Team, Public Safety oOfficers should not always be the first responders in a situation where a student is experiencing a mental health crisis. Often when a student experiences extreme mental anguish, public safety oofficers yelling at them through their doors can push them into a state of further mental distress. Students in a vulnerable position should not be forced to answer direct and direct questions about their intimate mental health to strangers and within easy reach of their fellow students. It can be intimidating and there should be a trained mental health professional who can meet the emotional needs of each individual at this time.
The college adheres to the New York State Mental Hygiene Law with its procedures, such as the one that allow students should be tied up, primarily in handcuffs, when they are determined to be a “high risk” when transported to Cayuga Medical Center. Nonetheless, there is more work that should be done to reduce the likelihood that students who are in vulnerable states will be injured.
The stigma associated with mental health has slowly dissipated in recent years; there is more research and more sensitivity to all cases. What we learn about mental health is continually changing, and the way the college responds to and supports its students should also continually change. Each scenario is different and requires less force and more educated and trained professionals. There has to be a balance. Having a forceful, almost aggressive, solution to crisis calls can be detrimental. The current response to a call can – and apparently already has – force students to remain silent about their suicidal thoughts or force students to hesitate before reporting someone they think may be in need of help. Students should feel reassured and secure when approached about their own mental health. They shouldn’t worry about being forced out of their room or their support systems. The college has started to examine its response to students facing mental health crises, which is worth celebrating. The college must continue this work to make the campus a safe place for everyone.