Post Academic

So Now Teachers Are Supposed to Be Mental-Health Experts?

PhotobucketI’m not very happy with a recent New York Times article wondering if Pima Community College did enough when handling the apparent mental disorder of former student Jared Loughner, the alleged Arizona shooter. The implication is that if Pima Community College somehow handled Loughner better, these people wouldn’t have died and Representative Gabrielle Giffords wouldn’t be in a hospital with a head wound. Here’s the line that set me off:

After the release of detailed reports the college kept of Mr. Loughner’s bizarre outbursts and violent Internet fantasies, the focus has turned to whether it did all it could to prevent his apparent descent into explosive violence.

“Did all it could?” Is that saying it’s Pima Community College’s fault? So now teachers are expected to be mental-health experts, on top of everything else they do?

Blaming the community college seems awfully easy, but the college told Loughner and his parents–in person–that he couldn’t come back because of his behavior unless he had a doctor’s note. (You could ask whether or not his parents got him that help, but the damage has been done.) It appears that the college was genuinely concerned about the welfare of other students, and they acted on it. This is good, right? Colleges are still working on responses to dangerous students after the nightmare at Virginia Tech, and it seems that Pima CC had a plan in place.

A teacher could have devoted every spare minute to Loughner, and it wouldn’t have mattered in the slightest because a teacher is not a psychiatrist, and a psychiatrist is probably the only person who could have helped Loughner become a functioning member of society instead of an alleged mass murderer.

This article is proof that teachers need to make their job duties clear. They are not psychiatrists. They are not psychologists. They are not babysitters. They are in the classroom to share knowledge and provide instruction. Society should be thinking about improving mental-health services and whether or not they should be administered through social services, the health-care system or even schools if appropriate programs are installed. Asking teachers to do more and be more aware isn’t going to do much if the rest of society isn’t also helping to figure out how to handle those who are dangerously mentally ill.

All charges alleged until proven under law. Old Austrian Schilling note with Sigmund Freud. Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

2 Responses to 'So Now Teachers Are Supposed to Be Mental-Health Experts?'

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  1. Excellent point about how the blame gets shifted here. It’s part of the same culture that expects teachers to step in for parents at basically every level! Not reasonable and definitely not okay.

  2. As a physician, my take was that Pima CC went the extra mile that even health care professionals couldn’t do given the strict privacy laws dictated by HIPPA. If a student over the age of 18 were to come into my office and state bizarre things I would not be able to even notify his or her parents because that would be a violation of their privacy. I agree that the parents were responsible once they were notified.

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