On Campus, a Struggle to Meet Mental-Health Needs ; Shootings This Week at a Virginia Law School Point Up Challenges of Helping Troubled Students

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The Appalachian School of Law is not a typical "sink or swim" campus, but a place where the philosophy is to give second - even third - chances.

That's why the school, set in rural Grundy, Va., let Peter Odighizuwa return for a second year, after failing his first. It's also why the faculty got together to buy him a car, after his was totaled in an accident, and helped his children get into a local private school.

Though many in the close-knit academic community seemed aware that Mr. Odighizuwa was often troubled and angry, mental-health services were a luxury the five-year-old law school could not afford. And certainly, no one counted on the gun. Now he is charged in this week's shooting deaths of the school's dean, a professor, and a student.

The tragedy presents an acute side of a larger problem: how to address mental-health problems on college campuses.

"One of the trends we have noticed over the last 10 years is an increase of students with much more serious psychological problems," says Robert Gallagher, former director of counseling and student development at the University of Pittsburgh. He oversees an annual survey of campus counseling-center directors, now in its 20th year.

The challenge of inadequate mental-health services hit public schools hard, after a wave of high-profile shootings in the 1990s. Suddenly, school boards even in rural areas began putting more resources into student counseling and security.

The issue is much less talked about on college campuses. But experts cite many reasons for the growing mental-health caseload: families that don't function, student drinking and substance abuse that exacerbate psychological problems, and intense academic pressure. After cutting counseling services in the 1980s, colleges and universities began beefing them up in the 1990s to deal with the problem.

Still, on many campuses, demand for such services is outstripping these new efforts. To cope, many colleges reverted to "time-limited therapy" - which restricts the number of sessions a counselor can have with a student on campus - or simply referred students to outside therapists. Those solutions are not meeting the need, says Mr. Gallagher.

At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which tried the referral approach for serious problems, the administration said in November it would significantly expand on-campus counseling services to better oversee students feeling emotional and academic pressure. …