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Sidebar: In Gun Debate, Legislators Target Mental Health

January 26, 2013

By Alix Hines
Capital News Service

Virginia’s General Assembly is also focused on preventing campus shootings like the one at Virginia Tech, but gun control is only one segment of the issue.

Before the Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, purchased a gun, he was a mental health outpatient. He was able to obtain the weapon only because he had not been admitted into a mental health institution; therefore, his mental health records did not prevent him from buying firearms.

State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, has introduced a bill regarding mental health treatment coordination for college students. Senate Bill 1342 seeks to improve the communication between mental health institutions and four-year universities.

The bill was developed after a study conducted by Dr. Richard Bonnie of the Virginia College of Mental Health shortly after the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

“I think what happens is – and this certainly happened in the Virginia Tech case – somebody is treated for mental illness or committed for mental illness, or treated for drug addiction. They are treated in a community facility, and then they return to campus, and there’s no exchange of information,” Petersen said.

“At a minimum, the college ought to have knowledge.”

Petersen’s bill would help establish more services for students seeking mental health services. In addition, the bill would notify the student’s university when he or she is admitted into a mental facility involuntarily.

This bill would also require mental health facilities to communicate with universities when a student is discharged. Petersen said the goal is to improve the communication to help students easily adjust to college life again.

The proposal has been assigned to the Senate Education and Health Committee.