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EDITORIAL: Reporting students’ suicidal tendencies to parents goes too far

Making the decision to address one’s own mental health struggles is already big, but it shouldn’t be made any more difficult by having to involuntarily share these struggles with people you may not want to know about them. 

However, as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, two newly proposed bills in Virginia would require colleges to report to a student’s parents if he shows “suicidal tendencies” or is a threat to himself or others, even if the suspicion is from someone who isn’t a mental health professional, and would require reports to go to a threat assessment team. While such an idea might seem like a good way to build a support system for students, it isn’t in the best interest of students during such a fragile time. 

Virginia public colleges are already required to have a policy on sharing such information with a student’s parents if the student goes to the campus’ counseling center, according to the Chronicle. However, allowing just anyone to decide whether a student’s parents should know about their mental state further infringes upon the student’s right to confidentiality. 

Granted, exceptions do exist. In Florida, for instance, one of these includes if one is at “immediate risk” of causing harm to himself or others. Still, this doesn’t mean a roommate or even a professor should be able to make that call.

Some college students may even prefer their parents not to know if they are experiencing mental illness. College, probably to the dismay of some, is not like childhood, during which time, parents are called when students are sick; and mental illnesses are far more complex than a case of an upset stomach in the school’s clinic.

As mentioned in the Chronicle, some students attending counseling appointments don’t want their parents to know. On top of that, they might not even go in the first place if their parents had to know. 

If college-age students are old enough to independently decide to seek help for their mental health, then it should be up to them to choose whether their parents need to know about “suicidal tendencies,” if they arise. 

The bill’s sentiment, which is suicide prevention, is quite valid. A survey conducted by the American College Health Association found that approximately 30 percent of students experience depression severe enough to interfere with functioning. Suicide.org reports the second leading cause of death among college students is
suicide.

Yet, while suicide prevention should be a priority, a student may not feel comfortable talking to anyone about their problems if they fear their parents will find out, and the risk isn’t worth a student not seeking medical attention if they need it. Voting for the bills could begin as early as next week, according to the Chronicle, but hopefully the idea will end there.