By: Robyn Gee
The story of the midnight shooting spree in a movie theater in Colorado that left 24 people dead has everyone talking about safety and gun control, and the mysterious man with bright orange hair. It doesn’t make sense. James Holmes, a former graduate student in neuroscience, brilliant -- and a killer?
We spoke with Dr. Latoya Hill at the University of Texas at Austin. She's the Associate Dean of Students and runs the Behavior Concerns Advice Line (BCAL) on her campus. This 24-hour hotline is a resource the school implemented right after the shootings at Virginia Tech.
Hill said that it is no surprise that Holmes was an intelligent, academically-minded person. “An individual who has a mental health issue, as long as they’re treated and supported, can be extremely productive … In my opinion, these two are not correlated... Especially in graduate school in a top tier institution, you are going to have very intelligent individuals. That does not mean that they do not suffer from some type of mental illness,” said Hill.
Over the last ten years, Hill said that medical improvements and new treatments have given more people with mental health issues the chance to succeed in college. A higher percentage of students enter college with a diagnosis than 10 or 20 years ago, which is positive. However, it also presents challenges.
“We are seeing more students with increased depression. And this age, 18 - 24, is the time when mental health illness and disorders present themselves... This time period [includes] a lot of stress and identity development, all of those are in some ways a powder keg... If they’re not met with some kind of intervention, more trouble can occur, and [cause] ripple effects into their personal lives and into their community,” she said.
In Hill’s opinion, the BCAL hotline is helping to educate students and faculty about what to do and say if they’re faced with difficult situations. Anyone can call in, and it is not necessary to name yourself or the person you’re concerned about.
“You don’t know what you have prevented, but due to the BCAL, we have made arrests based on some threats to the community. There have been instances where students have expressed suicidal ideation or actually had plans for an attempt. We’ve been able to intervene and get those students the resources they need to manage those feelings and to address those concerns,” she said.
The most calls to the BCAL come from the college of engineering, the college of natural sciences, and the college of liberal arts. The latter two colleges are the largest colleges at the university, which might explain the large number of calls, in addition to the rigor of some of the programs.
As we learn more about the indicators that might have tipped someone off about Holmes’ violent plans, the question remains how to recognize these signals more effectively. At least for educational institutions, Hill says every campus should have a BCAL program. “So often institutions put the onus of safety solely on the police, and we are all responsible for the safety of our campus. People always say, ‘Oh, that was odd to me,’ or ‘I thought that was strange,’ but no one says anything. And in order to protect the community we have to use our voices, speak up, and not expect someone else to do it,” she said.
Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.
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