An anonymous post on the Tech subreddit has sparked discussion on the Institute’s protocols for working with and accommodating students who seek psychiatric assistance.
The post, published on Jan. 22, came from a presumed student using the throwaway account /u/gatechemergency.
The student expressed distress, saying that they were suicidal and needed to go to the hospital but that they were concerned that doing so may jeopardize their academic future.
Further posts by /u/gatechemergency in the comment threads suggested that Tech and the Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD) would “make every choice … without considering what is best for [the student]” and that the student was concerned about the possibility of losing “months, maybe even years of [their] life to this one incident.”
After over 40 comments, the original post was later updated with /u/gatechemergency saying they were thankful the support but still not sure what to do.
There are no explicit policies in Tech’s Policy Manual or the Board of Regents equivalent for how the academic affairs of students who seek mental health assistance are to be handled, implying that most such incidents are assessed on a case-by-case basis. However, according to campus administrators, few cases have ever imposed any academic consequences.
“A student’s safety is always the most important thing. Everything else is secondary to that,” said John Stein, dean of Students and vice president for Student Life. “When a student expresses the fact that they’re feeling unsafe, and when we hear that, we want to hook them up with a professional so they can have a conversation and assess the level of risk.”
“So what we can request, or sometimes mandate from a student, is an assessment … we walk them to the Counseling Center, and in the evening or in the after hours, we link them to the therapist-on-call system so they can have a phone call with someone. Many times what I’ll say is that a student is able to contract — they’re able to say to the therapist that ‘this is how I feel, but I have no plan.’
“If that’s the case and the student can verbalize that they can keep themselves safe, they can stay with the thought that we trust they’ll reach out and get the help they need.
“The only time I’d say a student may be brought to the hospital is when they’re in a true psychotic state where they’re truly not able to think on their own. Again, usually it’s the psychiatrist or psychologist on campus who [is] making a decision with a student to send them to the hospital. It would never really be an administrative decision; it would always be a clinical decision.”
“This was encouraging because when a student posts something like this, it means they do want help. It’s the student who doesn’t post, who doesn’t say anything out loud, that’s the most worrisome. Not that we’re not worried about this student, but this student publicly expressed what was going on to see what came back.
“If he or she reads this, I hope, one, that they reached out for professional help on campus, and if not, I hope they do. I hope they find their way to my office or the counseling office and get the help that [they need]. That student and anybody else who feels that way.
“As members of this community, we are the eyes and ears, and we should always be watching out for each other. Especially students who live with each other, work with each other, eat with each other, play with each other: you have the ability to assess each other in a way that professional staff don’t, and faculty often don’t. … That’s what keeps us all safe and in a place of wellbeing with each other.”
Though there have been few such posts in the /r/gatech subreddit’s recent history, Tech’s Counseling Services staff have commended the work of commenters on this post in being reassuring and correcting misconceptions.
“I imagine seeing such a post was upsetting for other users,” said Lacy Currie, Ph.D., suicide prevention and crisis response coordinator with the Counseling Center, “particularly those who want to help but are unsure how given the anonymity of users on the platform. That said, I am extremely encouraged to see the responses posted by others offering encouragement, support and resources — as it is exactly what I would suggest individuals to do.
“Even more, they followed up and checked in again with the individual. Great job users!”
“It would never be the case that [the Institute] would just remove a student due to mental health concerns,” said Ruperto Perez, Ph.D., director of the Counseling Center. “We work with the student to evaluate what their current level of functioning is, what their current level of distress is and what their current ability is to continue functioning successfully. If they want to stay, we really try to work with them.”
“I guess what I found kind of curious is that the student who posted had a subsequent reply to someone else, and what I found ironic is that they were feeling suicidal but didn’t want to jeopardize their academic career by potentially having to go to the hospital. And my thought is, ‘Well, gosh. If you die, there’s no academic career.’ I think part of it is working to realize that students who are at that level of distress are really struggling to make a decision of how to get help and where to get help, and I think it’s our responsibility as a campus to provide them with the hope that things will get better and that help is always available. … That’s really kind of the
takeaway for me.”
Perez also addressed common concerns about the ease of obtaining assistance from the Counseling Center.
“A student who is in crisis is going to be seen immediately. … I think sometimes what happens is that a student will say that they came to the Counseling Center, they were in a crisis, and they got turned away. Sometimes what happens is that they come into the center, they’re not suicidal, they’re not gonna kill anybody, they may be feeling anxious. Part of what they may perceive as crisis, we assess as ‘well, you’re doing okay. You’re not feeling good, you might be feeling anxious, but by and large you’re functioning pretty well as a student, and you’ve got good coping skills, but there are some things going on that counseling could help you with’. Depending on the time of year, … they could be seen in a week for initial consultation or that kind of thing. We try to keep it down to two weeks, no more.”
GTPD’s Reddit account commented three times on the post, once providing the dispatch center’s phone number and once offering to open a dialogue over Reddit direct message with a specific officer. All three comments reassured the student that GTPD’s “overriding goal is to get you the help you need.”
Neither GTPD nor the specific officer were able to provide comment regarding the post. Moderators of the /r/gatech subreddit were unable to be reached for comment.