Examining mental health records

Photo by Aarsh Talati

In the span of twelve months, Tech’s mental health resources sent at least nineteen students to receive involuntary mental health evaluations off-campus. 

The Technique requested and examined Georgia Tech Police Department (GTPD) records for all “involuntary transports” between Feb. 1, 2018 and Feb. 28, 2019. In total, there were nineteen such cases in which a student was deemed to be in need of urgent mental health assistance. Those students ranged in age from 18 to 26. A slight majority were females and a slight majority were minorities. 

The students who were involuntarily transported primarily went to the Ridgeview Institute, located in Smyrna, GA; over the course of the year, Georgia Tech Counseling sent eight students to Ridgeview and Stamps Psychiatry sent seven. 

Source: GTPD Non-Crime logs, Feb. 2018. Design by Lauren Douglas

There were four Tech students involuntarily transported to locations other than Ridgeview during the same timeframe; three were sent to Atlanta Medical Center and one to Cobb Behavioral Health Crisis Center.

In Georgia, the signing of a form 1013 allows licensed mental health professionals to mandate that a patient be examined by another specialist. The requisites for doing so are twofold in that a patient must be both “mentally ill” by Georgia’s legal definition, and they must also be in imminent danger of causing harm to themselves or others — or, in some cases, unable to care for their own safety. The state designates only certain mental hospitals as “emergency receiving facilities,” or ERFs, that can evaluate 1013 cases. Those ERFs could also provide inpatient care; the Ridgeview Institute, for example, serves both functions. 

A 1013 form is a transport document that allows law enforcement to bring a patient before another professional for further evaluation within 48 hours of signing the document. It does not commit, imprison or otherwise forcibly administer treatment to a patient. A patient can be involuntarily transported under a 1013 and still be cooperative, and hypothetically they could be assessed at the ERF and found to not need treatment.

Director of GT Counseling Dr. Carla Bradley said in a statement to the Technique that the counseling center assesses all possible options in determining what to do with a student in crisis. 

“A counseling session can frequently facilitate a substantive reduction in the level of risk,” Bradley said. “Optimally there can be enough reduction of risk through developing a very solid treatment and support plan — such as staying with family and receiving focused mental health treatment for a period of time — so that better functioning can be restored.

“If the identified interventions are not sufficient to support the student’s safety, then we will begin to discuss the need for more intense support and treatment. This can include the recommendation that the student seek assessment at a hospital. Students are encouraged to voluntarily seek this next level of assessment. If a student remains at immediate risk of harm to self or others, the Counseling Center may complete a 1013 form, which is a means of ensuring safe transport to a hospital. Once the student is transported to a hospital, they will be assessed by staff at that location to determine what level of care is needed.” 

Dr. Shannon Croft, lead psychiatrist at Stamps Psychiatry, echoed those sentiments in an interview. “We would not be 1013-ing somebody if they did not say there is a chance they are going to kill themselves.” Croft said. “If you need help, we will get you help … Usually, we try to send someone to a hospital we know their insurance will cover. If they do not have insurance we have been using Atlanta Medical Center.”

While the 1013 form does allow GTPD to take patients into custody more forcefully, this was seldom the case from Feb. 2018 through Feb. 2019. Only two transports necessitated the use of handcuffs, according to the GTPD logs. In one of these, three GTPD officers assembled outside a counselor’s office in which the student was speaking to a counselor, who eventually opened the door so that officers could, according to the supplementing officer’s report, “[grab] the males [sic] arms so that I could place handcuffs on them.” The student in question had tweeted that he planned to harm himself in a suicidal manner after having lost a friend to suicide earlier that week.

Data Limitations

It should be noted that this set of records is known to be incomplete; GTPD changed their labeling protocols for these reports in June 2018 in such a way that there have certainly been more transports than labeled as such on the non-crime logs. The “Mental Health Issue or Concern” label was implemented as a means to more clearly track mental health incidents on campus, which previously might have been labeled more generally — i.e., “sick person” or “involuntary transport.” According to Institute Director of Media Relations Lance Wallace the department now prefers that all such reports use the “Mental Health Issue or Concern” label. According to Wallace, reports still labeled “involuntary transport,” like those the Technique requested, are “a function of the reporting officer choosing to describe it that way despite the availability of and the department’s preference for the new label.”

The Technique is aware of two involuntary transports from the past year involving a 1013 form but labeled as “Mental Health Issue or Concern” and has included those transports in this analysis. There were 12 other “Mental Health Issue or Concern” records filed from Stamps Psychiatry or the Flag Building from June 2018 through Feb. 2019 that could conceivably have involved mental health transports.

Additionally, the Technique is aware of at least two GTPD logs from the past year labeled “involuntary transport” in which there is no reference to a 1013 form. Both students were sent to Ridgeview, and both reporting officers had also written other reports in which 1013s were mentioned in the same timeframe.

Furthermore, the Technique is aware of at least one case in which a student was sent from Counseling to the Ridgeview Institute without the use of a 1013 form, via taxi. Said student says counseling gave her a voucher for the taxi and strongly recommended that she take a few nights off from school. These “voluntary commitments” are currently impossible to track on the public level. 

Peer institutions

Peer institutions’ records of 1013 transports are similarly opaque. 

The University of Georgia has a single entity called Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) to provide mental health services and crisis intervention. Leadership there could not provide the number of involuntary hospitalizations they order, but said they average one hospitalization a week — emphasizing that not all were involuntary. 

The UGA Police Department  maintains similar online records to GTPD. An examination of those records over the past academic year (Aug. 2018 through Feb. 2019) found six records of students being transported involuntarily for mental health reasons, all of which were handled by EMS. In the same span, UGAPD provided voluntary transportation to the campus medical center to 15 students and conducted at least 45 welfare checks.

Kennesaw State University (KSU) logs far fewer mental health calls in their law enforcement records. Officials with KSUPD indicated to the Technique that any 1013 transports would be categorized as an “escort” in their records, which are currently migrating to a new host. 

 Josh Gunn, Assistant Dean and Executive Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at KSU, said his office only captures data for students who meet with counselors as they return to campus from psychiatric hospitalizations. By his count, 28 students have followed up with his office over the past academic year due to hospitalization, eight of whom were sent on a 1013. Gunn said that KSU counseling used 1013 forms to send four students to ERFs in the fall 2018 semester. 

For a deep dive into our methodology for examining the GTPD reports, click here.