An article in Inside Higher Ed discusses the ways in which a Canadian university is trying to address mental health concerns of people on campus. I read the article twice and, from what I could understand, the idea is not so much to offer help to those who solicit it but to identify and assist those who do not:
We discussed the concept of a central repository for information and concerns about students – and struggled with the idea of privacy rights, slander and alarmism. What resulted was a call to the Winnipeg RegionalHealth Authority and the creation of a specific task force on the topic. The long-term plan includes offering a Mental Health First Aid certificate to everyone on campus: faculty, staff and students, as well as establishing a concrete strategy to consolidate potential concerns about all members of the campus community in a sensitive and functional way.
This is not an easy task, and the group is only in its infancy. Much of the talk around the table has centred on how to respond to students who are obviously acting out. One issue is that it has the potential to focus on the punitive. Another concern was that this would only address a portion of those on campus who could benefit from some care and attention. We are a campus community and I believe that we need to show care to everyone – not just the large group of undergraduate students who are the easiest to target. What about the faculty who are struggling with the publish-or-perish-syndrome?
To be honest, I’m bothered by the language of the article. I don’t want anybody to decide whether I need “some care and attention.” Truth be told, care and attention are the last things I seek from my work environment. I fail to see how I could benefit from some do-gooder with no specialized training diagnosing me and offering unsolicited help. From what I understand, no therapist can help a person who doesn’t express a desire to be helped. With the proliferation of TV shows of the Dr. Phil variety, many people now believe they are in the position to inflict their platitudes about mental health on others. I, for one, would like my workplace to be free of any discussions of my mental issues that are not initiated solely and exclusively by me.
I’m afraid that this kind of programs will identify those of us whose ways of behavior are in any way unusual or eccentric and hound us with offers to improve our existences.
The article ends with a series of questions:
When does this “care and concern” constitute an invasion of privacy? Do we have the potential to cause damage with our actions? We are a teaching institution – at what point does our attentiveness over-step boundaries into an area that has nothing to do with the mandate of the Academy?
My answer to them is: Yes, it does. Yes, we do. And, from the very beginning.
Everybody should do what they were trained to do. I should teach and do research. Mental health specialists should treat mental health issues of their patients. Just like I don’t expect a therapist or a psychiatrist to teach my course on Hispanic Civilization with any degree of success, a scholar cannot be expected to provide psychological help to students or colleagues.
How do you feel about such initiatives?