Friday, July 24, 2009

Programming Patty Calls "Hypocrite."

The mail that has come in regarding Bitchy Bear's post from yesterday has been a little raw and untamed, and while we normally like that, we thought the issue of a student's psychological state needed a slightly more reasoned response. So we chose a couple of pieces to post today. The first comes from longtime RYSer Programming Patty, and the second comes from a relatively new reader. Please to...well, you know.

It's not like Amanda merely took up painting and changed her major. Ten copies of a very long letter of gibberish underneath a professor's door ... perhaps that could be overlooked if the professor teaches creative writing and that was Amanda's only unusual behaviour. But singing a dirge-like song wearing clown shoes and a pageant crown outside the Student Union, then doing the same again dressed in her pajamas the following day?

Defending these actions as 'trying out different identities' is the very reason people believe art = multiple personality disorder and other forms of craziness. Perhaps Amanda wasn't dangerous to herself or others, but she was clearly not doing well psychologically and needed help. That she ended up in a state hospital means that her parents couldn't, or wouldn't, take her home to care for her. I don't agree that professors must be custodians of their students, but a little compassion is commendable. If a student is no longer able to communicate rationally, it might be prudent to call the school's counseling center and let them know you're concerned about him or her. This is not about the relative merits of careers in the creative arts versus soul-less accounting. It's one thing to ignore crazy homeless people singing dirges in their pajamas but what about a shred of compassion for a formerly good student who might be in trouble?

Also, Bitchy Bear labels the mental health staffer a flake and the business majors cubicle rats, yet she bitches about people equating artists with 'crazy.' So it's okay to insult other people's professions, just not her own. What a hypocrite.


I'm not a psychologist or a counsellor at my college, just a regular proffie who ends up knowing about 250 students each semester. Of this group, I'd estimate 10% have certain counselling needs that I'm absolutely not prepared to address.

We get trained during orientation every couple of years to watch out for vague and often confusing "warning signs." Most of us don't understand the signs shown to us in the hopelessly outdated examples that are play-acted in front of us, so when confronted with something "odd" in one of my students, I tend to focus on the homework or the essay or the project, and then get that student the hell out of the office as soon as possible! (I know I'm not helping.)

A year or so ago a colleague turned me on to a book called "College of the Overwhelmed," a fascinating - although a little scary - book that has been a godsend for me. It explains student depression and anxiety through student stories that match a lot of what I see. Among other things, the authors cite studies that show 50% of all college undergrads will face depression, and that as many as 10% will contemplate suicide.

Now, I don't know what's "wrong" with Amanda from the earlier postings. Her rambling letter may seem "creative" to some, but she sounds like she's in need to me. Her actions on campus, the pageant crown, the pajamas, might all by themselves be part of a sorority prank or something, but I don't think so. Had Amanda been my student, I would have called up one of the mental health folks here on campus - and I wouldn't call them "staff-flakes" either.

I LOVE the Bitchy Bear from Boston, and although I've only been reading the page for a few months, I've found her take on all things academic to be right on, but in this case she's way off. We are a little responsible for the young men and women in our classes, and if we don't know how to help, we must turn to someone who can.