Monday, July 20, 2009

On Amanda and Student Fragility. Olive from Ohio Offers Perspective.

I was very touched by your recent article about Amanda, the student who dropped out of school and delivered 10 copies of her rambling letter to the professor who wrote the piece.

As a mental health professional at a small liberal arts college, I've heard Amanda's story far too many times.

I applaud your posting of the piece, and I hope you didn't do it merely to make fun of yet another "crazy" student, because this story should be a bit of a wake-up call to all professors. This sort of thing is far more common than the typical professor understands.

The term I use for Amanda's episode - because it truly could be very temporary and/or caused by a mis-prescription or mis-use of a substance - is primary psychosis. At my 3000 student college, I see a dozen Amandas a semester. There is a bit of a running joke among my colleagues in the teaching fraternity that I must do nothing all day but watch soap operas and do my Sudoku puzzles. But Amanda and other young people just like her are on every campus, and the fragility of these students is not something to make light of.

I've seen scores of students over the years who go through this sort of "break" with reality. The stresses of being away from home, living on one's own, dealing with the academic and social pressures of a typical college life can bring this on, but as I noted earlier, the use or abuse of substances can often bring about these alarming breaks. The worst I ever saw involved a freshman who simply had a new prescription for a long-standing and normally useful anti-anxiety medicine.

I try to tell my friends on the faculty that they need to be aware of their students and to watch for changes in behavior. Those of us on a college campus are not just there for a paycheck. We're there - in part - as custodians of the students who come to us. By being aware that Amanda is not simply a freakish tale, we may get ahead of the next Amanda. She may be in your class this coming semester; what will you do to help?