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more articles by Gerson, Henry D. , MD  |  author's bio

Serving Students in Emotional Distress

Serving Students in Emotional Distress

By Henry Gerson, MD


In a previous Health Watch column, we discussed the various stressors college students face and some common signs of emotional distress. This column will touch on some of the ways in which our community mental-health-care providers can help mitigate a crisis and provide support for students needing assistance.


On Campus

Both Cornell University and Ithaca College have counseling programs in their student health centers. These programs are staffed by trained mental-health professionals with expertise in working with the college age population. If you are concerned about the safety of a student you think may be struggling with depression, severe anxiety, substance abuse, or is engaging in behavior that is potentially harmful to himself or others, it is appropriate to alert campus services. The student may be seen on campus or may be evaluated in the Emergency Department (ED) at Cayuga Medical Center.


At the Medical Center

Students who require an urgent psychiatric evaluation may come to the ED on their own or by ambulance, depending on the circumstances. Once in the ED, the student will be evaluated by a trained mental-health professional. The evaluation will include both a medical and a psychiatric assessment. Its goal is to understand the level of crisis or danger, and make a plan for intervention. The plan could include admission to the medical center’s short-term Behavioral Services Unit, outpatient office-based follow-up; and increased contact and support from family.


In the Behavioral Services Unit


The goal of admission to the Behavioral Services Unit is to interrupt a crisis and establish calm, to perform diagnostic tests and start appropriate treatment, and to make plans for reducing risks and increasing supports when the patient is released. Help in the unit is multifaceted and varies depending on the individual patient.


Each patient receives psychiatric evaluation and treatment.  When applicable, this includes psychological testing. Care plans include one-on-one counseling with members of a multidisciplinary staff, and group psychotherapy sessions for an opportunity to share experiences and view points, and find support from peers.  Educational programs teach patients about mental health, wellness, and safety issues. Social work support helps patients with issues related to insurance, family matters, and other real-world concerns.  Finally, comprehensive discharge planning seeks to secure outpatient mental-health follow-up. We establish connections to the on-campus counseling programs so that students we treat have appropriate support in place when they return to campus.


There is help available in our community for mitigating a crisis and offering treatment to those in mental or emotional distress. Among the challenges our community must face together are recognizing mental health problems and overcoming the stigma of seeking help for them. 


If you or someone you know is feeling depressed to the point of hopelessness and is contemplating suicide, it is crucial to reach out for help. You can call the 24-hour crisis line at (607) 272-1616 or the Emergency Department at Cayuga Medical Center at (607)- 274-4411.  If the situation is an emergency, call 911.


Dr. Gerson is an attending psychiatrist and medical director of Behavioral Health at Cayuga Medical Center. He is board certified in psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He can be reached at Cayuga Medical Center 607-274-4011.




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