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Virginia Tech as a Sentinel Event: The Role of Psychiatry in Managing Emotionally Troubled Students on College and University Campuses

Giggie, Marisa A. MD, MPAff

doi: 10.1097/HRP.0000000000000088

This article reviews the role of psychiatry in colleges and universities, and argues that psychiatrists are significantly underutilized as consultants and educators in managing emotionally troubled students. Focusing on the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting case as a sentinel event, the article outlines mental health issues facing post-secondary institutions and legal issues related to psychiatric services, including the following: the increased need for psychiatric services on campus; communication challenges among campus groups involved in managing high-risk students; efforts to balance patient confidentiality with public safety; confusion over privacy laws; and the changing role of the campus psychiatrist. An important conclusion is that psychiatrists working in campus settings have distinctive, vital skill sets that enable them to go far beyond their traditional roles of psychiatric evaluation and treatment and to serve in critical leadership, educational, and consultative capacities to benefit both emotionally troubled students and the wider campus community.

From the University of Alabama School of Medicine, Tuscaloosa Campus.

Original manuscript received 12 April 2014; revised manuscripts received 19 August and 13 December 2013, and 28 February, 19 June, and 16 October 2014; accepted for publication subject to revision 8 December 2014; revised manuscript received 16 January 2015.

Correspondence: Marisa A. Giggie, MD, MPAff, Department of Psychiatry, College of Community Health Sciences, Box 870326, 850 5th Ave. East, Tuscaloosa, AL 3540. Email:

© 2015 President and Fellows of Harvard College
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