UT Takes Different Approach to Psychological Issues

Jill Manges was in her French history class at Eastern Illinois University, when she felt the symptoms — the waves of nausea, the tightness in the throat — that signaled an impending flashback.

Threading her way through the row of desks that September afternoon, Manges, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, willed herself to the door, blacking out just outside her classroom.

Twelve days later, the school gave her two options: Take a medical leave or get kicked out of school.

That same month, Michelle Pomerleau, a student at St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, faced a similar fate when she overdosed on prescription drugs.

“I am concerned for your well-being, Michelle, but your behavior is impacting other students in a negative manner,” wrote a school vice president in a letter delivered while Pomerleau was still in the hospital.

From large public institutions to small, private colleges, a growing number of schools are taking punitive action against students who display mental illness, ranging from bipolar disorder to eating disorders, experts say.

But with better mental health services in younger grades, more youth with mental illness are arriving on college campuses than ever before.

At the same time, courts have indicated that schools can be held legally responsible if students harm themselves or others.

Administrators, mindful of the safety of the larger community, say they need to be proactive.

However, critics call it overreacting. They say schools are discriminating against those who have a medical condition, deterring students from seeking help and driving dangerous behavior underground.

UT is taking a different approach to the problem with its Student of Concern program, said Monnie Wertz, associate dean of students and student affairs.

“We had a large number of students who reached that crisis point, so in the spring of 2005, we started our Student of Concern program,” she said.

The program is designed to intercept students who are on the way to self destruction and provide them with a network of support and options.

According to Wertz, the program has been a great success, with faculty, staff, family and students contributing to help.

“I’ve had a student walk into my office and say, ‘I think I’m a student of concern,'” Wertz said. “We’re trying to get to students before they reach that crisis point.”

A key part of the program’s success is in catching at risk students early.

“In fall of 2005 we began a mental health program and tied it into Gateways

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