Mental health

A Middle Ground on Trigger Warnings (essay)

Recently, a nonacademic friend asked, “If you were teaching William Butler Yeats’s ‘Leda and the Swan,’ would you use a trigger warning?”

“Leda and the Swan” is a vivid account of Zeus, in the form of a swan, raping a young woman named Leda. I hadn’t read that poem since high school, and after rereading it, I can’t say for certain what I would do as an English professor. I probably would take an approach similar to the one I use as a professor in sociology as well as women’s, gender and sexuality studies.

The concept of a trigger warning has become quite controversial in recent years, with some people on campuses encouraging or demanding its use, and others discouraging it -- such as the Faculty Senate at American University, which recently passed a resolution citing the potential negative impact on academic freedom. As a faculty member who regularly teaches course content on trauma, I take more of a middle ground.

The term “trigger warning” has come to refer to introductory statements on web postings of graphic descriptions of rape, eating disorders and self-harm. They are used to alert readers who may be struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to those topics so that they can choose whether to continue reading. The purpose of using a trigger warning in the classroom is to let students know that the material that their professors have assigned may cause physiological or psychological reactions as a result of past traumas.

I started teaching in 2000, before the term was regularly used in academe or had received any news media attention. I now teach many of the same topics I taught then, about rape, violence, trauma and eating issues.

My approach on the first day of class, when I discuss the purpose of the course and learning goals, is to review the syllabus, pointing out topics that may be emotionally difficult, such as trauma and eating issues. I explain the content in the texts and any films that I plan to show in class.

In the past two years, I've also said something like, “I can’t predict what material may trigger someone suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or what will upset people for other reasons. If you are concerned or uncertain about this course, please closely review the course materials and decide whether you want to continue taking it.”

I tell students that I’m available to meet with them to discuss any questions they may have about any aspect of the course. Typically, the week before we engage content that explicitly depicts violence or trauma, I remind students about the upcoming material.

If a student cannot view a film or discuss raw readings in the class setting, they are still responsible for that material, just as is a student who cannot attend class because they have a fever or other illness. I do not change my expectations or assessments concerning quizzes, exams, papers and so on -- regardless of the reason a student misses class. In the handful of cases when a student (typically a rape victim) has met with me to tell me that she cannot attend an upcoming class because the material is too emotionally charged, I tell her that she can use one of the two allotted absences that I give all students for any reason, such as if they are sick or need to attend a family event. I also tell her about the mental-health resources available to her to encourage her to seek help if she has not yet done that. I’ve never had students tell me they cannot read the course material because they are dealing with PTSD. (The reality is that some students don’t read all course material for a variety of reasons.)

The intent of a trigger warning is to acknowledge that some students may need to prepare themselves before engaging with explicit texts or films that might otherwise catch them off guard. But what preparing oneself looks like differs based on where each specific student is in the healing process. As noted by Mental Health America, people can have very different reactions. One student may need to seek counseling, while another may need to focus on mindfulness techniques and other strategies before coming to class. And yet another may need to skip class altogether.

How professors should use the phrase “trigger warning” is a source of contention. Students often do not have an accurate understanding of what it means, so they need an explanation of PTSD to appreciate the warning’s purpose. They may not realize there is a difference between course content that they will find emotionally disturbing for reasons other than trauma, and course content that is triggering due to PTSD. Some types of course content are upsetting for most students, such as films that depict genocide or natural disasters. Not all students who become visibly emotional are reliving memories of trauma (unless, of course, they have direct, traumatic experiences with genocide or natural disasters).

Then there’s the issue of whether to use trigger warnings at all. Discerning whether material is potentially triggering due to PTSD is arguably a slippery slope. And no professor can warn students about all possible triggers that might occur in their classroom.

I certainly don’t have all the answers when it comes to the debates about trigger warnings, but I never only use the term “trigger warning,” if I use it at all. If we as professors incorporate the phrase “trigger warning,” we should include more information than those two words, whether in a syllabus or before showing a film. I’m not trained about all possible PTSD triggers, so I risk misleading students by labeling some material as triggering and overlooking other content altogether. Instead, I continue to prefer course content overviews and reminders about upcoming content on violence and trauma.

All that said, things can get especially complicated in an academic setting. Outside of academe, a person with PTSD who is learning how to manage triggers may successfully avoid news, films or other potentially difficult stimuli. What is distinct about college is that students may be enrolled in courses that require them to read, watch or discuss content that graphically depicts violence or trauma.

Sexual assault, in particular, is associated with a greater risk of developing PTSD symptoms, and a new survey among 27 universities finds that cis women, transgender and gender nonconforming students experience the highest rates of sexual assault and misconduct during their college years.

So, whether using the term “trigger warning” or not, I strongly believe that professors should say something about that content before requiring students to engage it. Here’s an example of a time when I regret that I didn’t do that.

In a senior sociology seminar, I showed a clip from The Invisible War, a documentary about sexual assault in the military. I described the film’s content, but I did not specify that the clip we were about to view included distraught, first-person interviews. One segment showed a young woman shaking as she described a rape’s impact on her life. The film then cut to her father weeping about his failed attempts to reassure her that she is still a virgin.

A student became agitated. She shifted in her chair, wiped away tears and left the room for a few minutes while we wrapped up the clip.

After class, I sent an email to check in with her. She wrote back first thanking me for covering these issues in class rather than avoiding them. Then she said that she wished that I had better prepared the class for the content of this particular film. Watching first-person accounts of rape is much more difficult to absorb in a class setting than academic readings on the same topic. Not acknowledging that difficulty risks leaving sexual assault victims in the classroom feeling more isolated than they already do.

She’s right.

I had unexpectedly received a copy of the film, and I could have sent an email giving a more detailed description of the film before we met in class that day. And I wish I had.

Higher education cannot identify all possible topics or classroom moments that might trigger students suffering from PTSD. Professors may decide to abandon the language “trigger warning” altogether to avoid the impression that they have drawn a bright line between material that is and is not triggering. But let’s not forgo giving students advanced descriptions of course content on violence or trauma. Whether it’s a content alert or a preparatory overview, professors have a responsibility to let students know about such content.

Not giving students a heads-up risks a return to the status quo of intellectualizing violence and trauma as something that happens only outside the classroom. And those in the classroom who have suffered such trauma may needlessly suffer even more.

Julie A. Winterich is an associate professor of sociology and the director of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Guilford College.

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Essay about teaching students who appear to suffer from depression but don't seek help

As I got ready to turn in my spring semester grades this week, I was depressed to realize I would have to fail two students who hadn’t finished the work in my classes.

I say “depressed,” but I wasn’t really. I’m using this word as a shorthand to describe my gloomy sense of wishing I had been a better teacher. The students were the ones who were actually depressed, which was precisely the problem.

As someone who teaches disability studies, I think a lot about how to make my classes accessible to students with a range of learning styles and physical abilities. I present material in varied formats and offer different options for completing assignments so that students can produce work that best reflects what they’ve learned and what they are capable of doing. Because of their subject matter, my courses attract students with disabilities, and I’m used to accommodating them.

But I find students with depression among the hardest to accommodate. Students who are depressed tend to withdraw and vanish rather than to ask for help. When they do show up to class or office hours, they are unmotivated and joyless. The very nature of their illness often makes the professor into an antagonist rather than a source of support.

Tania, a student who -- ironically enough -- failed my class on disability studies, didn’t respond to my email messages about an upcoming presentation. She showed up in my office 15 minutes before class looking exhausted, her skin covered in an angry rash. “I didn’t do the work, OK?” she said in a despairing tone. “I know you’re going to yell at me, so why don’t you just do it?”

Putting aside my dismay over the missing presentation, I asked how I could help. Tania dissolved into tears: she was depressed and having trouble getting her work done. She hadn’t bothered to register with our Office of Disability Services because she felt so confident at the beginning of the semester. I made sure she had seen a therapist and gave her the chance to make up for the missed presentation. I urged her to stay in touch and ask for my help rather than vanishing if she continued to struggle. I also suggested that she contact the ODS to help her get accommodations for her other courses. (Do I even need to say that I did not yell at her?) After that day’s class, I never saw her again. She didn’t do the presentation or turn in a final paper. When it came time to turn in my grades, I had no choice but to give her an F.

My other student, Aurora, did register with ODS late in the semester after sitting silently during seminar discussion for most of the term and then missing a series of classes. Through ODS, she asked for extra time on her final paper and the opportunity to make up for her lack of participation. The deadlines we had set came and went, I was unable to reach her, and she too failed the class.

Tania and Aurora are hardly unique. In The Noonday Demon, Andrew Solomon writes that depression is the leading cause of disability in the world’s population over age 5. Up to 19 million Americans (3 percent of the total population) suffer from depression, while manic depression affects 2.3 million people and is the second leading killer of young women, the third of young men. “Worldwide, including the developing world,” Sullivan writes, “depression accounts for more of the disease burden, as calculated by premature death plus healthy life years lost to disability, than anything else but heart disease.”

College students are particularly vulnerable, and rates of depression are on the rise. College creates an environment of high expectations, constant evaluation and deadlines that can heighten stress and anxiety. A 2008 study from Columbia University found that up to 50 percent of college students experience psychiatric disorders, although fewer than 25 percent seek treatment. Students suffering from psychiatric illness are less likely to attend class, complete assignments and graduate from college. They are more prone to engage in substance abuse. Suicide rates among college students have nearly doubled since the 1950s.

An elite residential university like mine is especially likely to produce or exacerbate depression. Students are especially susceptible when they are living away from home for the first time, often with less experiences and resources for coping with adversity than older adults. A rising senior at my university blogged recently that my university is “a place of unimaginable wealth, privilege, cruelty, pressure and stress…. Depression is normal, but here, it’s the norm.”

I know some of my colleagues see the rising incidence of disability among their students as evidence of the medicalization of our culture. The problem is not that more students are experiencing learning, mood and behavior disorders, they tell me, but that we live in a society that is too quick to diagnose and medicate conditions that, in the past, would be considered ordinary human behavior. So too, they argue, privileged students often use diagnoses as an excuse to get accommodations that give them an unfair advantage over their peers.

Given the stigma surrounding disability, there is little incentive for students to claim disability for the purposes of personal gain. It is far more likely for students to avoid getting treatment than to deliberately pursue a diagnosis to get a competitive edge. Indeed, research shows that less than 25 percent of students suffering from psychiatric illness seek treatment.

Depression is a real disability that needs to be accommodated, in the same way we accommodate students who use wheelchairs or have vision impairments. Beyond the minimum requirements stipulated by the Americans With Disabilities Act, colleges and universities need to do all they can to help students with disabilities by providing adequate counseling and accommodations.

But we also need to face the unfortunate fact that sometimes college, especially a highly competitive, residential college like the one where I teach, is an unhealthy environment for students with more severe forms of depression. Maybe depression is one disability I’m not able to accommodate. And maybe my students, in vanishing from class, are making that decision for themselves.

Rachel Adams is a professor of English and American studies at Columbia University, where she also directs the Center for the Study of Social Difference. Her most recent books are Raising Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability and Discovery and Keywords for Disability Studies.

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Survey notes conditions of those seeking care at campus counseling centers

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The challenges of teaching with a mental health condition (essay)

Gleb Tsipursky describes how he struggles to teach with a mental health condition, and how instructors -- and their colleagues -- can deal effectively with such disorders.

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How we must shape our language to the students we work with (essay)

"I think this a real gut-check moment for you, Nathan."

His eyes immediately drop to his lap in an apparent effort to do just that, and I feel my shoulders sag. I look over at my colleague, whose eyes meet mine and then roll slightly. Damn. Nathan looks up from his gut check and eyes me quizzically. I quickly adjust.

"What I mean is that this is one of those important moments when you decide if you really want to do something that's difficult." In this case, it was giving up his habit of taking over-the-counter medication in excess. I, of course, had my own habit to give up: my tendency to use figurative language to explain a concept or suggestion or quandary in which my students find themselves.

For most of my career, I have worked with students who, for the most part, traveled with me down the road of abstraction (See? There I go again. Damn). I would sit with them and explain how texting an ex-boyfriend was like "touching a hot stove over and over," or how missing class repeatedly meant they were digging themselves a hole that got deeper by the day, or that seeing a counselor would help them box up those bad memories and stack them neatly on a closet shelf where they could be accessed without fear of being crushed. Not always the most elegant language, but it worked for me, and seemed to work for them.

These days, I find myself in the company of very different students. They live together in a residential and academic support program that was created to help high-functioning autistic students, or students with significant executive function challenges, succeed in college. We provide a level of academic and organizational support that is beyond the capacity of most colleges, and in doing so, allow these often very bright students to take, and pass, classes and ultimately get a college degree and a credential necessary for some of the careers to which they aspire.

They can do many things: solve complex math problems, explain chemistry to anyone who will listen, remember dates of significant world historical events in a manner foreign to most college students who only want to memorize what will be on an exam.

What they can't do very well is understand my metaphors. They are, most of them, literal thinkers.

"Don't throw in the towel yet!" I implore Stephen, who is thinking of quitting a club he has joined.

"What towel?" Damn.

"Don't give up yet. Don't quit. Give it a few more meetings and see if you like it better."

"Oh. O.K."

I never realized just how much I resort to visual metaphors until I couldn't use them anymore. I am like a mechanic without a wrench, a hairstylist without a comb, a ... you see, this is my problem. I don't plan these analogies and similes. It just seems to be how my brain works. I come by it naturally, as my mother was the queen of the cliché, the euphemism, the short-phrase-that-put-all-in-perspective.

"Every cloud has a silver lining." "It's always darkest before the dawn." (Yes, teenagers love hearing those responses to heartbreak). My mother knew every aphorism available to English speakers. A well-phrased maxim was her primary child-rearing tool.

Perhaps she would have diversified her portfolio if she'd given birth to an autistic son rather than a daydreaming poet of a daughter. But she didn't, and now, here I am: in a job where I am often unable to use a tool that has served me so well in my work with students, a linguistic Leatherman, one could say, that I am lost without it (I just did it again, but that was pretty subtle).

"Come on, Robert. Don't let him get your goat," I say, trying to mediate between two students unable to be civil to one another.

"My goat?" asked Robert, suddenly sure that his nemesis was stealing yet another object of his.

"Don't let him..." What? Get the better of you? That's kind of abstract.

Rattle your cage? Ruffle your feathers? Get on your nerves? I settle on, "Don't let him make you angry." The conversation then continues.

My almost-daily moments of realizing my dependence on figurative language, proverbs, metaphors and other abstract notions make me very aware of the challenges my students face in the classroom. So much of teaching involves metaphor, which someone once defined as "using something we know to explain something we don't know."

In the rich scholarship of metaphor and meaning, this is more clearly articulated as two domains. One is the "source" domain, from which we draw the metaphorical expression: "Love is a battlefield"; "Life is a carnival." The source domain is our extant knowledge of a battlefield or a carnival, of things that are concrete, physical. The other domain is the "target" domain, where the metaphor takes us (to an understanding, in these cases, of love and life), to abstract and figurative concepts.

A teacher travels between these domains constantly, and the best teachers take their students there in style. Every academic subject -- literature, physics, computer science -- relies on metaphors for explanation of complex notions. And sometimes these notions become the source domain themselves.  We refer to an organization’s core value as “being in its DNA," or a deeply held belief as being part of someone's "genetic code."

In their book Metaphors We Live By, authors George Lakoff and Mark Johnson write of the "conceptual metaphor" and its importance in cognition. Metaphors influence not just how we think, but how we feel and act. If, for example, a group of employees is placed into two "teams" and asked to "swing for the fences" toward a goal, they may find themselves in a competitive mindset.

If instead, they are asked to work in groups to build a "house," with different "subcontractors" working toward a common goal, they may approach their work in a more collaborative fashion. A simple comment like, "Hey, we're all in the same boat here" works to inspire a group of people because they instantly, with no effort, flash to the image of themselves in a boat with their co-workers and then quickly grasp what the boss is saying:  we're in this work together. Metaphors, and our individual and collective ability to grasp them, hold great persuasive power in our learning and working environments.

So when I imagine my students in a typical classroom, with a talented professor zooming between and among metaphors, I see looks on their faces similar to the ones I've seen when I've said things like, "This is a gut-check moment," or "Give it a whirl": bewilderment followed by defeat.

When everyone in the classroom seems to get what the professor has said except you, it is hard not to be discouraged.  Coupled with the cognitive processing speed deficits that are not uncommon among high-functioning autistic students, one can see why their attrition rate is higher than their native intelligence and innate perseverance would predict.  I know I'd get frustrated if I were them.  It's very likely I would throw in the towel, or raise a white flag, even.

I find that I do recognize that bewildered expression more quickly these days, and so catch myself almost as soon as the maxim, proverb, aphorism or metaphor is out of my mouth, or I at least announce, “I’m going to make a comparison between two things” (explaining a rule or predicting an action is often very helpful to students on the autism spectrum).

I have come to recognize, too, that some of my students do not have this particular deficit, and that some of them are so quick to use a metaphor to describe something that I need a moment to catch up myself.  One afternoon, I watched as some students tossed a brand-new rugby ball belonging to one of them, Shane, in the front yard of the house we occupy. An errant toss landed the ball in the street where a truck quickly crushed it. Shane was good-naturedly bummed about his lost ball; when another staff member came outside moments later, he said to her, "Abbie, my firstborn committed suicide."

She looked alarmed, then followed his pointing finger to the street where she saw the flattened carcass of the ball on pavement. "It was my first rugby ball, and now it's gone," he said, in mock despair. "Shane," I observed, "to be accurate, it was actually more of an assisted suicide." He looked at me and for a moment, I thought I had gone one step too far with the metaphor.

"Yeah," he replied, laughing. "But that’s O.K., since that's now legal in Vermont."

As more and more students on the autism spectrum arrive in our classrooms, as accommodations allow more students with nonverbal learning disabilities to succeed enough to land on a college campus, our attention to our own language habits must increase.  A few years ago, I might have responded to that request with some resistance. This is how I talk. This is who I am.

But now, spending my days in the company of students who have to work incredibly hard to succeed in a traditional academic setting, even with the appropriate accommodations, I know the onus is on me to add another tool to my toolbox. Exercise some new muscles. Step up my game.

Or maybe just ... improve.

Lee Burdette Williams is director of student life and collegiate partnerships at Mansfield Hall, in Burlington, Vt.

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Students (and colleges) vulnerable to computer gaming addiction (essay)

Until the academic warning letter from my son’s college arrived home last December 23rd following his fall freshman term, he assured us that he was getting Bs in his classes. 

Confronted with this letter, he broke down in tears, admitted that he spent most of the last half of the semester playing an online computer game, and didn’t attend the final weeks of classes nor even sit for his exams. 

An activity that started out in high school for fun and as a coping strategy for stress had hijacked his brain, and he lost control.  He was addicted – as are nearly 2 million other U.S. college students. And if the computer game industry continues to succeed in its marketing strategy to hook youth on their products, its market success will trigger bigger avalanches of academic warning letters every December -- unless college leaders take action to address this worsening epidemic.   

For the past six years as an administrator at a large community college, I’ve focused on developing workforce education programs that have helped hundreds of at-risk students succeed in college programs.  However, as a parent of a game-addicted college student living away from home on a college campus, I felt powerless to help my son succeed in his own college launch.  As a young adult, he’s responsible for his choices, and he chose games over college success.  At the same time, the heart of addiction is a loss of control, and still-developing teenagers like my son are especially vulnerable to the instant gratification of games that can entrap them into addiction before they know what has hit them.  My hope is that our family’s story can help the higher education family grapple with this epidemic, so that other parents’ sons and daughters don’t experience the calamitous crash that my son did at college. 

Excessive Gaming Linked to Lower Academic Performance

Because computer game-playing is legal, hidden away in dorm rooms, and doesn’t result in obvious impairments like drug or alcohol addiction, the problem has stayed under the radar.  However, many studies have linked excessive computer game-playing to lower academic performance, as well as a variety of disorders often treated at campus health centers, such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, and social phobias. 

In one of the most authoritative studies, a longitudinal study of 3,000 third- through eighth-graders in Singapore, researchers from Iowa State University and elsewhere found 9 percent of gamers to be “pathological,” meaning that their gaming damaged multiple parts of their lives, including school performance.

Additional Resources

National Academic Advising Association Clearinghouse Article on Gaming Addiction, by Lee Kem of Murray State University

Online Gamers Anonymous, an online support community modeled after 12-step programs.

The Center for Internet Addiction, an online information resource, professional training and treatment service pioneered by Dr. Kimberly Young.

NBC Rock Center story on computer game addiction.

Just like my son, they didn’t grow out of it on their own, either.  Two years later, 84 percent of the pathological gamers in this study were still experiencing similar impacts, a finding that suggests that nearly 10 percent of first-year college students bring these pathologies to college with them.  Students who reported pathological impacts played an average of 31 hours every week.  Gaming within this subculture of students is so prevalent that my son convinced himself that 5-8 hours of daily gaming when he started college was normal.

Once these students arrive on campus, freed from the constraints of high school attendance monitors and parental oversight, students are more likely to binge on gaming, with results that can be as traumatic as my son’s.  In the 2011 National Survey of Student Engagement, completed by 27,000 first-year students, over one-third of incoming males and nearly one-fourth of females reported playing computer games more than 16 hours per week. These students had lower SAT scores and lower high school grades, and completed fewer AP courses.  So, they come to college less prepared to succeed, and are likely to fall further behind if their addiction takes root more deeply. 

An older 2003 study of college students by The Pew Internet and American Life Project confirmed this crowding out effect, with nearly half (48 percent) of college student gamers reporting that gaming keeps them from studying.  Perhaps the former Federal Communications Commissioner Deborah Taylor was ahead of her time in 2008, when she created a brief media firestorm with a speech in which she claimed that “one of the top reasons for college dropouts in the U.S. is online gaming addiction – such as World of Warcraft.”

Emulating the Tobacco Industry’s Marketing Strategy

This problem is poised to get much worse.  More and more online computer games are designed to profit by hooking addicts -- starting at a young age -- on their products, just as cigarette makers profited for decades by hooking young nicotine addicts for a lifetime. This Christmas, children being groomed by game-makers will find "Halo" and "World of Warcraft"-themed Lego sets under the tree.  At a 2010 conference, one industry executive admitted that “we have to bring them in and keep them addicted and make them keep playing.” 

After the computer game industry succeeded in getting and keeping my son addicted at college, he was hardly recognizable as the high school senior with a 3.7 GPA, 2100 SAT, and active participation as a high school athlete and trombonist in five bands.  In a 2010 magazine article, an anonymous game designer described the creepy science of addiction that designers are engineering into their products. 

Game-makers’ profits increasingly rely on addiction.  Consider the meteoric rise of the game that became an addiction as strong as crack for my son: Riot Games’ "League of Legends."  In 2009, Riot Games released "League of Legends" as one of the first free-to-play online massive multiplayer games, which require no upfront subscription payment.  They extract money from players later, after they get hooked. By the fall of 2012, Riot Games reported that "League of Legends" had 70 million registered player names and 12 million “daily active users” (likely addicts) worldwide.  The company’s business model was attractive enough to score a massive $400 million payoff for the company’s founders when they sold the company in 2011. 

Its phenomenal success has induced a Pavlovian response within the industry to design even more intense free-to-play games that seek to ensnare and addict its customers – with youth and college students directly in their crosshairs.  This prospect should motivate every dean of student services into action to warn students, starting with the first day of freshman orientation. 

Campus Strategies to Address Computer Addiction

Such warnings are rare, however.  “Given that college students are at the epicenter of America’s computer addiction epidemic, I’m shocked at how few colleges and universities are addressing this problem aggressively,” says Hilarie Cash, executive director of ReStart Internet Addiction Recovery Center, and author of Video Games and Your Kids.  One reason is that the problem of compulsive or pathological computer gaming is often hidden from college officials by addicted students. 

For example, when the dean of student services asked my son why he was withdrawing from college, he said “because of depression” – without mentioning that he had spent nearly every waking hour in the last month of the semester compulsively playing a computer game while isolated his dorm room. This kind of response is typical of many addicts, who feel a deep sense of shame about their out-of-control compulsion for gaming, and engage in elaborate self-deceptions and lies to protect their addiction and their self-image. My son thought he was the only student with this problem.

Tracy Markle, Founder of Collegiate Coaching Services, has directly observed a chilling rise in pathological computer gaming among her young adult clients.  “When we conduct our initial assessments on new male clients, 75% have some level of computer gaming and/or Internet abuse issue that contributes to the original presenting problems such as poor academic performance, difficulty concentrating, and social anxieties.”  In addition to these reported problems, Markle points to other indicators of potential gaming addiction problems with college students, such as frequent absences from classes, roommate complaints, social isolation, and calls or e-mails from concerned parents. 

Cash and Markle both encourage college and university leaders to provide in-service training to build awareness among staff – especially front-line leaders such as resident assistants, teaching assistants, and student health clinicians -- on how to recognize the warning signs of computer gaming. Colleges can also launch student awareness campaigns to warn students of these problems, and encourage affected students to seek help rather than to retreat into dangerous isolation.  If my son’s college had trained its resident advisers to recognize that holing up in your dorm room all day, not emerging for classes, ordering delivery pizzas alone every night, and turning away friends at his doorway are all signs of a potential problem, he might have been steered to get help before he crashed so completely.  Cash also encourages campus leaders to develop new campus resources, such as offering a 12-step group to address computer gaming, and building a referral network of local therapists who have experience with this unique form of addiction.

Computer game companies already have their grip on nearly 10 percent of college students.  They are coming after more of them, with more potent products.  You can’t stop them. But college and university officials can begin to address this issue by doing what we do best – education -- starting with ourselves to learn more about the growing epidemic of pathological computer gaming. Without action, we need to be prepared to mail even more academic warning letters each semester.

This essay was written by a community college administrator. Inside Higher Ed agreed to publish it anonymously to protect the privacy of the author's son.

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