Colleges Put Out Safety Nets

Emily Parsons, 21, started a chapter at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant in November. Depression had disabled her so much, she couldn't go away to college after high school. During the next spring she felt a surge of energy, her thoughts raced, and she started spending lots of money. After not sleeping for four nights, she began hallucinating. Parsons was hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. "It's a real shocker to get a diagnosis like that when you're 18."

By taking medicine and staying in close touch with doctors, she has been able to go away to college.

"One thing that helps me a lot is ceramics. It's such a stress reliever, it keeps me centered."

She has become philosophical about her illness: "This is not going to go away. I know I need to take good care of myself."

The Stigma Deepens

Students need to stay on their medicine or reduce amounts only under a doctor's care, "but there's still a learning curve for young people. They want so much to be like everyone else," says Joy Himmel, director of the health and wellness center at Pennsylvania State University-Altoona.

Steven Kazmierczak, who killed five students and himself at Northern Illinois University in February, had stopped Prozac abruptly because of side effects, his girlfriend told CNN.

After the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois shootings, too many people are drawing a link between mental illness and murder, says Lucas Ebaugh, 26, a student at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs.

He has depression and an anxiety disorder, "but I am not a violent person. I know a lot of people with mental illness, and they aren't violent, either. This false equation just contributes to stigma."

Most mentally ill people are not violent, says Edward Mulvey, an expert on mental disorders and violence at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School.

The best predictor of violent behavior is prior violence, says Mulvey, but Cho had no record of physically attacking people. "Massacre killings are almost impossible to predict," he says.

Horrific as they are, such mass campus shootings are rare, says James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston. With about 16 million U.S. college students, "the chances of being murdered on campus are about as likely as being fatally struck by lightning," he says.

Nobody knows whether the vigilance with troubled students will prevent mass murders. But colleges must try, says Richard Kadison, chief of mental health services at Harvard. "The pendulum is swinging away from being laissez faire. ... If you're going to make a mistake, it's better to err on the side of keeping students safe."

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