Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, M.D.: "Our AMA could use its medical
knowledge to provide guidance to college staff members who lack
[psychiatrists'] level of clinical training" concerning behaviors they
should look for in students that might indicate suicidal thoughts or
intent. Ted Grudzinski/American Medical Association
The AMA will advocate for developing guidelines on appropriate access to
psychiatric and other mental health services on college campuses, as part of a
comprehensive report the organization has agreed to prepare on depression and
suicide on college campuses.
The AMA House of Delegates last month approved a resolution calling for the
report, which will include a review of scientific data on the efficacy of
prevention programs aimed at reducing the incidence of suicide on college
campuses. The AMA has also agreed to review the data on access to—and
utilization of—college mental health services.
The resolution was brought to the house by APA, the American Academy of
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the
American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.
The AMA action is a victory for APA's own initiative to address depression,
suicide, and other mental health issues on college campuses. In January,
Michelle Riba, M.D., then APA president, established the Presidential Task
Force on Mental Health on College Campuses, one goal of which was to bring the
issue to the attention of the AMA
Task force co-chair David Fassler, M.D., AACAP's delegate and a member of
the Section Council on Psychiatry, told delegates at the meeting that
psychiatric illness is increasingly prevalent on college campuses.
"The incidence of significant psychiatric illness, including
depression, is increasingly common on college campuses, in part because we are
doing a better job of recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness at
an earlier age," Fassler said. "As a result, more and more young
people are coming to college with an existing diagnosis. Some of those young
people may not have made it beyond high school in previous generations. The
ability to attend college is due in part to early and effective psychiatric
"We now have close to 16 million college students, and more of these
young people need access to comprehensive mental health care, including
psychiatric and substance abuse services," Fassler said.
Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele, M.D., a resident member of the Section Council
on Psychiatry, testified about his own experience as a "dorm
parent" working the night shift at the University of Chicago.
"There really is a sense of panic on college campuses about
suicide," he said. "The staff members take very seriously any
indication for suicide without any knowledge of what to take very
seriously and what to take somewhat seriously. I think our AMA could
use its medical knowledge to provide guidance to college staff members who
lack our level of clinical training."
Veenstra-VanderWeele added that parents of new college students may not ask
about the availability of mental health services on campus or inform staff
that their children have been receiving such services, making continuity of
care difficult or impossible.
"There really is no clear way to transition these kids into college
and into treatment within the new community they are a part of," he
"Depression and Suicide on College Campuses" is posted