Report Shows More Mental Health Professionals Needed

Saturday, February 16th 2008, 6:01 pm
By: News On 6

A recent report says that Oklahoma universities need to do more to help students with mental illnesses.  Governor Brad Henry formed the Campus Life Safety and Security Task Force, or CLASS, in the wake of the Virginia Tech Shooting.  After months of research, the task force released its findings this week.

The News On 6's Chris Wright reports CLASS took a look at campus safety, how schools respond to a crisis and mental health management.  When it comes to the latter, the report says Oklahoma needs to make some improvements.

After Seung Hui Cho killed 32 students on the campus of Virginia Tech last April, a picture of a disturbed young man quickly emerged.  Cho had a history of mental illness, and had been accused of stalking two fellow students.

The warning signs displayed by Steven Kazmierczak, the Northern Illinois University shooter, were more subtle.  He also had mental health problems, and authorities say he recently stopped taking his medication.

"Where there's smoke, there's fire.  If you smell smoke, don't wait until it's too late, act as quickly as possible," said Michael Brose, Tulsa Mental Health Association.

While he says these campus shootings are almost impossible to predict, Brose believes mental health professionals can spot red flags.

The Class Task Force agrees, saying Oklahoma schools are significantly understaffed when it comes to trained counselors.

Nearly a quarter of universities do not have trained mental health professionals.  Only seven percent have peer support groups for troubled students.  And only 40% advertise a crisis hotline.

"We've got to a better job of outreaching to those people who are having problems or symptoms, or they're disenfranchised, or something bad has happened to them personally," said Brose.

Besides reaching out to students with problems, Brose says Oklahoma schools need to train everyone to recognize warning signs.  That way students who need help can get it before they act out.

"We've got to educate the students, we've got to educate the faculty about what are the warning signs, what do those warning signs look like?" said Brose.

The CLASS report recommends that more funding be made available to hire more mental health professionals.

Brose says that research shows that kids who receive therapy and medication rarely become violent.  He really believes that more qualified counselors will create safer campuses.