The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Psychology Professor Andrew Shatte, left, and University official Max King were members of a panel to kick off Mental Health Awareness Week. [Melanie Lewis/The Daily Pennsylvanian]

The ongoing controversy involving a student's right to confidentiality and a university's responsibility to alert parents about their child's mental health resonates on Penn's campus.

And last night, the issue was addressed as part of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week.

"The students are the first line of defense when it comes to mental health awareness," University President Judith Rodin said in her introductory remarks during the panel discussion on the issue. "I salute you in beginning this week."

Universities have a responsibility to be involved in mental health, Psychology Professor Andrew Shatte argued, "but not in the legal sense."

Shatte implored universities to promote mental health before combating mental illness and to capitalize on students' strengths.

Panelists debated a student's right to privacy. "We need to ensure that awareness and support are kept in the open, so we can deal privately with any issues that might arise," stated Max King, an official with Penn's student affairs office.

Penn's policy regarding student confidentiality, as stated by Counseling and Psychological Services, claims to respect a student's trust unless a psychiatric emergency arises.

However, other universities' policies differ. The incident at Massachusetts Institute of Technology last school year, in which a student who had been seeking psychiatric help from the school committed suicide, will potentially be a deciding factor in future confidentiality policies.

Elizabeth Shin's parents are currently suing MIT for not sharing with them the severity of their daughter's condition. MIT argues it was maintaining Shin's confidence.

The outcome could result in a general trend toward earlier notification of students' parents. If this occurs, "universities will scale back their response to mental health" to avoid liability suits, Shatte claimed.

Rostain concurred, saying, "If we take every crisis and say, 'You have to leave school,' we aren't going to have any students after the first semester!" He continued. "Part of growing up is being crazy some of the time."

"Faculty worry like crazy about our students being OK," Psychiatry Professor Anthony Rostain said. "But we don't want to overstep our bounds."

College senior Shira Robinson, Reach a Peer line president, explained, "Many call because it's confidential. We aren't intervention. If the University were to take a more non-confidential stance, students would go into denial. It's important for these issues to be kept private and to have these outlets available."

However, third-year Medical School student Julie Friedland said she believes that the stigma surrounding people with mental illnesses deters many of them from seeking help.

"I'd love to say it's ignorance," she said, referring to why mental illness is still a taboo subject. "But I just don't think that explains it."

Groups like Open Minds, which sponsors Mental Health Awareness Week, work to foster recognition and acceptance. "My goal," President Allison Malmon said, "was to create a group where students could talk freely about mental health issues.

"We're working on getting into [New Student Orientation] and Greek New Member Orientation."

Still, the stigma around sufferers is far from dissolved. "Without students stepping forward, this remains a dark, dirty secret," Rostain said.

According to Shatte, many are relieved to know they are not alone. "But it's important to show that this is a disorder," he stressed.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.